Over a million people still filed initial unemployment claims last week with no COVID-19 relief in sight
Another 1.1 million people applied for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits last week, including 751,000 people who applied for regular state UI and 363,000 who applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). PUA is the federal program that provides up to 39 weeks of benefits for workers who are not eligible for regular unemployment insurance, like the self-employed. Without congressional action, PUA will expire in less than two months (more on that below).
The 1.1 million who applied for UI last week was little changed (a decline of 3,000) from the prior week’s revised figures. Last week was the 33rd straight week total initial claims were far greater than the worst week of the Great Recession. (If that comparison is restricted to regular state claims—because we didn’t have PUA in the Great Recession—initial claims last week were still 3.6 times where they were a year ago.)
Most states provide 26 weeks of regular benefits, but this crisis has gone on much longer than that. That means many workers are exhausting their regular state UI benefits. In the most recent data, continuing claims for regular state UI dropped by 538,000, from 7.8 million to 7.3 million.
For now, after an individual exhausts regular state benefits, they can move onto Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which is an additional 13 weeks of regular state UI. However, PEUC is set to expire in less than two months (more on that below).
In the latest data available for PEUC (the week ending October 17), PEUC rose by 278,000, from 3.7 million to 4.0 million, offsetting only 46% of the 602,000 decline in continuing claims for regular state benefits for the same week. The small increase in PEUC relative to the decline in continuing claims for regular state UI is likely due in large part to administrative delays workers are facing getting onto PEUC. Further, many of the roughly 2 million workers who were on UI before the recession began, or who are in states with less than the standard 26 weeks of regular state benefits, are exhausting PEUC benefits. Nearly a million workers (972,000) had exhausted PEUC by the end of September, the latest exhaustion data available in most states (see column C43 in form ETA 5159 for PEUC here).
Department of Labor (DOL) data suggest that right now, 22.8 million workers are either on unemployment benefits or have applied recently and are waiting to get approved (see Figure A). However, that number is an overestimate. For one thing, initial claims for regular state UI and PUA should be nonoverlapping—that is how DOL has directed state agencies to report them—but some individuals are erroneously being counted as being in both programs. An even bigger issue is that states are including retroactive payments in their continuing PUA claims, which would also lead to double-counting. All this means nobody knows exactly how many people are receiving UI benefits right now, which is another reminder that we need to invest heavily in our UI infrastructure and technology.
DOL numbers indicate that 22.8 million workers are either receiving unemployment benefits or have applied and are waiting to see if they will get benefits (as of October 31, 2020): *But caution, this is an overestimate due to reporting issues (see below)*
|Regular state UI: Continued claims||PEUC: Continued claims||Regular state UI: Initial claims||PUA: Continued claims||PUA: Initial claims||Other programs (mostly STC and EB)||Total|
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Seasonally adjusted data are used for regular state UI claims; seasonally adjusted data are not available for the other components of the chart. Regular state UI continued claims are for the week ending October 24; PEUC continued claims are for the week ending October 17; regular state UI initial claims are for the week ending October 31. PUA continued claims are for the week ending October 17; PUA initial claims are for the weeks ending October 24 and October 31. “Other programs” are continued claims in other programs for the week ending October 17. 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.
Source: Department of Labor (DOL) Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims (News Release), retrieved from DOL, https://www.dol.gov/ui/data.pdf, November 5, 2020.
Figure B shows continuing claims in all programs over time (the latest data are for October 17). Continuing claims are more than 20 million above where they were a year ago. However, the above caveat about continuing PUA claims applies here, too, which means the trends over time since March may be distorted.
Continuing unemployment claims in all programs, March 23, 2019–October 17, 2020: *Use caution interpreting trends over time because of reporting issues (see below)*
|Date||Regular state UI||PEUC||PUA||Other programs (mostly STC and EB)|
Click here for notes.
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Data are not seasonally adjusted. 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.
Senate Republicans allowed the across-the-board $600 increase in weekly UI benefits to expire at the end of July, so last week was the 14th week of unemployment in this pandemic for which recipients did not get the extra $600. And worse, without congressional action, PUA and PEUC will expire in less than two months. Millions of workers are depending on these programs—DOL reports that a total of 13.3 million workers were on PUA (9.3 million) or PEUC (4.0 million) during the week ending October 17. When these programs expire, millions of these workers and their families will be financially devastated. But there is little hope for another stimulus bill before next year. The House passed a $2.2 trillion relief package, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell adjourned the Senate last week with no COVID relief, knowing full well that millions would see their benefits disappear during the winter holidays. The cruelty is mind-blowing.
And blocking more COVID relief is not just cruel, it’s terrible economics. For example, the spending made possible by the extra $600 in UI was supporting millions of jobs. Letting the $600 expire means cutting those jobs. Not providing stimulus in the form of aid to state and local governments will also cost millions of jobs. We will get new data tomorrow when the October jobs report is released, but in the latest data available, the labor market is still more than 12 million jobs below where we would be if the recession hadn’t happened, and job growth is slowing. Further, gross domestic product (GDP) numbers were released last Friday, showing GDP is now 3.5% below where it was at the end of 2019—the second-largest three-quarter drop on record. It is shameful that Senate Republicans are walking away from the American people like this. Blocking more stimulus also means no additional housing and nutrition assistance; no COVID-related health and safety measures for workers; no aid to the Postal Service during this critical time; and no additional support for virus testing, tracing, and isolation measures or virus treatment and support for hospitals and other health providers. All of these things would have helped our economy and the people in it recover from the COVID-19 crisis.
Blocking stimulus is also exacerbating racial inequality. Due to the impact of historic and current systemic racism, Black and Latinx communities have seen more job loss in this recession, and have less wealth to fall back on. The lack of stimulus hits these workers the hardest. Further, workers in this pandemic aren’t just losing their jobs—an estimated 12 million workers and their family members have lost employer-provided health insurance due to COVID-19. Senate Republicans have failed struggling families.