The most recent unemployment insurance (UI) claims data released today show that another 1.3 million people filed for UI benefits last week. However, trends over time should be interpreted with particular caution right now because California data are being imputed since they have temporarily paused their processing of initial claims.
For the past 11 weeks, workers have gone without the extra $600 in weekly UI benefits—which Senate Republicans allowed to expire—and are instead typically receiving around 40% of their pre-virus earnings. This is far too meager, in any state, to sustain workers and their families through lengthy periods of joblessness.
The president’s early August executive memo, intended to give recipients an additional $300 or $400 in UI, instead resulted in reduced benefits and extreme delays—and left many workers ineligible. In some states, even this inadequate additional benefit is still unavailable to workers. For example, New Jersey workers won’t be able to collect additional benefits until October 19. The mixed messages coming from the White House continued last week when President Trump announced, via Twitter, the end of stimulus negotiations with Democratic leaders. When the stock market declined sharply in response, the president backtracked.
These half-measures and empty promises simply will not do when we are facing a massive jobs deficit and an initial recovery that has already slowed substantially. The UI benefits cuts were the first big gash of austerity that will slow the economy’s recovery. The second will be the cutbacks to state and local government spending and employment that will occur without already long-overdue federal fiscal aid. To ensure a strong recovery, Congress must pass a substantial stimulus bill that goes well beyond the meager bill announced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday. The stimulus must include a sizeable increase to UI benefits and aid to state and local government.
To give a sense of how many workers are being left behind, Figure A shows the share of workers in each state who either made it through at least the first round of state UI processing (these are known as “continued” claims) or filed initial UI claims in the following weeks. The map includes separate totals for regular UI and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), the new program for workers who aren’t eligible for regular UI, such as gig workers.
The map also includes an estimated “grand total,” which includes other programs such as Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), Extended Benefits (EB), and Short-Time Compensation (STC). Almost half the states are reporting that more than one in 10 workers are claiming UI. The components of this total are listed in Table 1, although this estimate should be interpreted with caution.
Three states had more than half a million workers either receiving regular UI benefits or waiting for their claim to be approved: California (3.0 million), New York (0.8 million), and Texas (0.8 million).
Figure A also displays the numbers of workers in each state who are receiving or waiting for regular UI benefits as a share of the pre-pandemic labor force in February 2020. In three states and the District of Columbia, more than one in 10 workers are receiving regular UI benefits or waiting on their claim to be approved: California (15.5%), Hawaii (14.7%), the District of Columbia (11.9%), and Nevada (10.1%).
Nine states reported that more than one in 10 workers are currently claiming PUA: California (18.9%), Hawaii (18.2%), Arizona (13.8%), Michigan (13.5%), New York (13.5%), Kansas (12.9%), Massachusetts (12.8%), Pennsylvania (12.4%), and Rhode Island (10.5%). This underscores the importance of extending benefits to those who would otherwise not have been eligible, including self-employed and low-wage workers and people who are looking for part-time work.
Cumulative jobless claims by state: Numbers and shares of workers either receiving unemployment benefits or waiting for approval during the week ending October 10
|State||Currently receiving or applied for regular UI||Regular UI as a share of labor force||Currently receiving or applied for PUA||PUA as a share of the labor force||Upper bound* receiving or applied for PUA||Upper bound* as a share of the labor force|
With workers experiencing long-term unemployment as the crisis persists, they are increasingly relying on PEUC, the 13 additional weeks of benefits available to workers who have exhausted the 26 weeks of regular benefits. For the week ending September 26 (the most recent data available), the increase in PEUC claims mirrored the decrease in regular UI claims. This indicates that while there were some initial delays in getting eligible workers on PEUC (including failing to inform them about the program), those appear to be smoothing out.
As we look at the aggregate measures of economic harm, it is important to remember that this recession is deepening racial inequalities. Black communities are suffering more from this pandemic—both physically and economically—as a result of, and in addition to, systemic racism and violence. At the same time, Black workers face longer delays in receiving UI payments.
Young workers have also been hit particularly hard by this recession, in part because they are disproportionately employed in vulnerable industries like leisure and hospitality. At the same time, young workers who haven’t yet secured a job are not eligible for UI benefits. A job-seeker’s allowance would provide some economic security for these new entrants to the labor market and other excluded groups.
Union representation helps to close racial gaps in UI access. In fact, unionized workers overall are much more likely to apply for and receive UI benefits. This shows how workers, even when facing layoffs, are better able to achieve economic security when they come together in a union. Congress should pass policies that bolster unions in both the public and private sectors. And in the long term, they must strengthen other institutions that allow us, collectively, to promote the general welfare, including unemployment insurance and public health insurance.
New and cumulative jobless claims by state: Number of workers either receiving unemployment benefits or waiting for approval during the week ending October 10
|Regular UI||Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)||Other programs|
|State||Most recent continued claims: 10/03/2020||Most recent week initial claims: 10/10/2020||Most recent continued claims: 09/26/2020||Total initial claims – most recent 2 weeks||Most recent continued claims: 09/26/2020||Total receiving UI or waiting for approval*|
|District of Columbia||47,575||1,804||14,778||391||10,496||75,044|
Caution: This is a substantial overestimate. For one thing, initial claims for regular state UI and PUA should be nonoverlapping—that is how DOL has directed agencies to report them—but some individuals are erroneously being counted as being in both programs. Also, some states are including retroactive payments in their continuing PUA claims, which would also lead to double-counting. Regular state UI continued claims are for the week ending October 3; PEUC continued claims are for the week ending September 26; regular state UI initial claims are for the week ending October 10. PUA continued claims are for the week ending September 26; PUA initial claims are for the weeks ending October 3 and October 10. “Other programs” are continued claims in other programs for the week ending September 26. A full list of programs can be found in the bottom panel of the table on page 4 at this link: https://www.dol.gov/ui/data.pdf.
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