The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked an unprecedented economic crisis, during which tens of millions of Americans have relied on state and federal unemployment benefits as a lifeline of economic support. While unemployment programs are delivering billions of dollars of aid to families and the economy, the process of applying for and receiving that aid has been frustrating, with the millions seeking aid experiencing excruciating wait times at the hands of overwhelmed state systems. The TCF–New America pandemic unemployment insurance dashboard seeks to shed light on the impacts of and challenges facing this critical safety net.
How Many Americans Filed for Benefits This Week?
Figure 1 is a snapshot of how many Americans are newly out of work and filing for state unemployment benefits and federal pandemic unemployment assistance this week, and who remained unemployed and filed continued claims for state or federal benefits (continued claims lag behind by one week).
Figure 2 presents the total number of Americans filing a new or continued unemployment claim in the most recent week. It combines non-duplicated initial and continued claims for benefits in the major UI programs.
The total number of worker filing continued claims (not new applications) is below. State unemployment rolls have leveled off while the number of pandemic unemployment assistance claims has risen as states have gotten the program off of the ground.
How Many Workers Are in Danger of Losing CARES Act Benefits on July 26?
The CARES Act has provided $600 in federal unemployment benefits to each state and federal unemployment recipient in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, but these benefits are only payable through July 26. Below is an estimate of how many workers will be impacted by the cut-off.
How Long Is It Taking Workers to Receive Benefits?
Payment and processing delays have been a major concern throughout the COVID-19 crisis, but have been difficult to measure. This dashboard presents novel measures of timeliness of payments, as well as official metrics in federal performance standards.
Table 2 shows the percent of initial applications for state benefits that have been paid. Nationally, as of the end of May, 57 percent of the state unemployment claims made through May 15 had been paid by the end of May (technically first payments, starting a new payment for the year). Individual states vary widely on their respective payment performance.
Federal timeliness standards direct the states to decide on any issues with a contested claim within twenty-one days of an issue being detected—for example, if someone lost work for a reason that was due to the pandemic and therefore was out of their control.
Map 1. Nonmonetary Timeliness
What Are the Demographics of Unemployment Insurance Recipients?
Table 4 breaks down the demographics of unemployment claimants since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis in March. Because of high rates of unemployment and major layoffs in front-line service jobs, Blacks and Latinxs are overrepresented among UI recipients.
Map 2. Demographics of State Unemployment Insurance Claimants
How Much Money in Benefits Is Being Paid Out?
National data reveals continued record levels of unemployment benefits payments, exceeding $20 billion per week starting in May.
Additional Details by State
Full data sets for all of the charts above can be found by clicking here. Here are some more state details based on those data. Most states have come down from their high points during the pandemic, in terms of the number of workers on continued state unemployment benefits, but remain at very high levels.
About the Data
The primary source of these data are reports by the states submitted to the U.S. Departments of Labor and of the Treasury. We invite comments and corrections from state data sources. Weekly claims data will be updated by Friday each week, and monthly data will be updated by the end of the following month (for instance, June data will be up by July 31). You can download the full data set or join the conversation by visiting the UI data google group.
- “State” vs. “Federal”: State claims refer to the permanent basic package of up to twenty-six weeks of unemployment available to regular workers in taxable employment. Federal programs cover those not eligible currently for state benefits either because they are long-term unemployed or because they are independent contractors, or did not earn enough to collect state UI. State benefits are paid for through state payroll taxes, and federal benefits are paid for through federal taxes.
- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA): CARES Act program that expanded states’ ability to provide unemployment insurance for many workers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including for workers who are not ordinarily eligible for unemployment benefits, including independent contractors, self-employed, students and youth, and others who may be unable to prove prior-year income. The program is federally funded, but applicants apply through state systems where eligibility is determined. Read more here.
- Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC): CARES Act program that extends eligibility for unemployment benefits by up to thirteen weeks for anyone who exhausts their state-level maximum week benefit. Read more here.
- Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC): CARES Act program that automatically provides an additional $600 in federally funded benefits per week, applied to all weekly benefits (regular and PUA), from the week ending April 4, 2020 through the week ending July 25, 2020.
- Worksharing: Worksharing, also known as short-time compensation (STC), allows employers to reduce hours of work for employees rather than laying off workers. Employees experiencing a reduction in hours are allowed to collect a percentage of their unemployment compensation benefits to replace a portion of their lost wages. Read more here.
- Initial claims: New application for unemployment benefits or to restart unemployment benefits after a subsequent period of unemployment benefits within a benefit year.
- Continued claims or insured unemployment: Ongoing claims for unemployment benefits including weeks that are paid, and weeks that are pending or serving a disqualification.
- Weeks claimed: The total number of such continued claims accumulated during a period
- Weeks compensated: An unemployment made for a week of partial or total unemployment is considered a “compensated week.” The total number of weeks compensated in a year divided by fifty-two represents the average number of ongoing beneficiaries receiving payments per week.
- First payments: The “first payment” represents the first payment for unemployment received by an eligible unemployed individual. It is used as a proxy for the number of beneficiaries for a program.
- Seasonally adjusted (SA) versus non-seasonally adjusted (NSA): Seasonal adjustments account for fluctuations throughout the year that are driven by various trends in weather, holidays, school calendars, etc. This allows the data to highlight cyclical trends aside from these regular fluctuations. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been relying more on the NSA numbers, since it is unclear to what degree current trends are impacted by regular seasonal fluctuations.
- Advance versus prior week claims: As per the Department of Labor, “Advance claims are not directly comparable to claims reported in prior weeks. Advance claims are reported by the state liable for paying the unemployment compensation, whereas previous weeks reported claims reflect claimants by state of residence.” Advance claims can be thought of as an estimated figure, whereas prior week is the adjusted, final, figure that is posted on a weekly delay. In this dashboard, we use advance claims only for the most recently released weekly data, whereas all previous weeks’ data are “prior week.”
- Nonmonetary timeliness: An official federal standard representing the number of days between the detection of an issue related to eligibility other than the amount earned and a determination of that issue. Separate rates are reported for separation and nonseparation issues.
- Separation: An eligibility issue related to the reason that an individual became unemployed, such as whether they were laid off, fired, or quit.
- Nonseparation: Eligibility issues other than how much a worker earned or why they became unemployed. These include whether an issue is available for work, refused a job offer, or failed to search work.