Unemployment insurance claims are still about 18 million more than they were a year ago: The new relief and recovery bill will help millions of families

One year ago last week—the week ending March 7, 2020—was the final week of normal unemployment insurance (UI) claims before the COVID recession. That week, there were 211,000 initial UI claims. The week after that, it jumped to 282,000. From there, it skyrocketed into the millions.

Last week—the week ending March 6, 2021—another 1.2 million people applied for UI. This included 712,000 people who applied for regular state UI and 478,000 who applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)—the federal program for workers who are not eligible for regular unemployment insurance, like gig workers. The 1.2 million who applied for UI last week was unchanged from the prior week. The four-week moving average of total initial claims was also unchanged.

Last week was the 51st straight week total initial claims were 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 greater than the 10th-worst week of the Great Recession.)

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Claims of labor shortages in H-2B industries don’t hold up to scrutiny: President Biden should not expand a flawed temporary work visa program

Key takeaways:

  • The Biden administration is now considering whether to increase the number of visas in the H-2B program—a temporary work visa program for lower-wage jobs intended for use when there are labor shortages—and is under significant pressure from business groups to roughly double the size of the program.
  • The economy, however, is showing no signs of labor shortages in H-2B jobs. In fact, the opposite is true: The latest labor market data show very high unemployment rates in major H-2B industries as well as nearly 5 million unemployed workers in a host of occupations for which H-2B jobs are commonly approved.
  • The H-2B program’s current rules make it easy for employers to game the system when it comes to recruiting unemployed workers. And the program is flawed, rife with abuse, and in desperate need of reform, as numerous reports and investigations have proven, calling into question the credibility of the program.
  • President Biden has the authority to direct the leadership at the Departments of Homeland Security and Labor to reject an increase the H-2B program in 2021, based on the fact that there are no labor shortages in H-2B industries that would justify such an increase. He should instead push for major reforms of the H-2B program that would ensure domestic recruitment efforts become legitimate and that migrant workers will be treated and paid fairly and have a path to citizenship.

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Strengthening workers’ right to organize is 50 years overdue

The union election underway at an Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama, has caught national attention because of how significant a win would be for workers in the South and across the country. Even President Biden has weighed in on the importance of unions, proclaiming in a new video that workers should have a free choice to organize without interference or threats from their employer—a presidential endorsement that is without precedent in our lifetimes. This week, the House of Representatives is scheduled to debate and presumably pass comprehensive legislation—the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act—to strengthen workers’ ability to join together and form unions to negotiate for better pay, safety protections, and fairness on the job.

This newfound attention to the importance of workers having collective power to bargain with their employers is welcome, but it is long overdue—more than 50 years overdue.

The fact is, Amazon is using tactics to fight its workers in Bessemer, Alabama—thinly veiled threats, mandatory meetings in which management rails against the union, hiring third-party professional union busters—that are standard fare in the employer playbook, and have been for decades. Employers fully realize and take advantage of fundamental, structural weaknesses in our federal labor law that is supposed to protect and promote workers’ freedom to organize unions.

We recently co-authored a paper that shows, by the late 1960s and early 1970s, employers had learned how to exploit the weaknesses in the National Labor Relations Act to block union organizing. Employers realized the law has no teeth—it literally has no monetary penalties against employers who illegally fire union activists or otherwise interfere with workers’ rights. Under the guise of “free speech,” employers are allowed to hold one-sided “captive audience” meetings, where management criticizes and lobbies against forming a union, often predicting layoffs and strikes if workers unionize. Yet the union isn’t allowed in the room, and companies frequently forbid workers from speaking up or exclude pro-union workers from the meeting. Employers routinely bend and break the law. A recent Economic Policy Institute report found that in four out of 10 organizing efforts, workers have to file charges to try to stop their bosses’ illegal activity. In up to a third of elections, employers are charged with illegally firing union supporters.

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The ‘$15 minimum wage is too expensive for Peoria’ argument doesn’t hold water: Five reasons why

The one argument made often in the debate over raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour nationwide by 2025, is that you can’t expect to pay the same wages in Chicago as you do in Peoria.

Such an increase, critics contend, will bankrupt small businesses, will impact payroll decisions for corporations with operations nationally, will raise wages beyond what folks outside of big cities need to make ends meet—and will ultimately hurt local economies.

Turns out, these arguments are bogus.

Here are five reasons why:

1. $15 anywhere in this country makes cost-of-living sense.

Today, in all areas across the United States, a single adult without children needs at least $31,200—what a full-time worker making $15 an hour earns annually—to achieve a modest but adequate standard of living. By 2025, workers in these areas and those with children will need even more, according to projections based on the Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budget Calculator.

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AAPI Equal Pay Day: Essential AAPI women workers continue to be underpaid during the COVID-19 pandemic

Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) Equal Pay Day is March 9, marking the number of days into 2021 that AAPI women must work to make the same amount as their white male counterparts were paid in 2020. AAPI women are paid 94 cents on the dollar on an average hourly basis, relative to non-Hispanic white men with the same level of education, age, and geographic location. Further disaggregating this data reveals that Pacific Islander women earn 61 cents on the dollar relative to their non-Hispanic white male peers.

During this pandemic, members of the AAPI community have been victims of a horrific rise in discrimination, violence, and hate crimes—which we must call attention to and urgently address. In addition, AAPI women who are essential workers have continued to face an alarming and unacceptable pay gap. The infographics below take a closer look at average hourly wages of AAPI women and non-Hispanic white men employed as elementary and middle school teachers, registered nurses, cashiers, and wait staff. We find that AAPI women make between 11% and 21% less than non-Hispanic white men in these occupations.

The pay disparities are largest among elementary and middle school teachers, with AAPI women being paid just 79% of what non-Hispanic white men are paid. AAPI women registered nurses are paid 82% of what non-Hispanic white men are paid. Lastly, AAPI women cashiers and wait staff make 84% and 89%, respectively, as much as non-Hispanic white men in those occupations. It is long past time to ensure equal pay for AAPI women.

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The Senate must pass the $1.9 trillion relief and recovery plan with the UI provisions extended to October 3

Another 1.2 million people applied for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits last week, the last week of February. This included 745,000 people who applied for regular state UI and 437,000 who applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)—the federal program for workers who are not eligible for regular unemployment insurance, like gig workers.

The 1.2 million who applied for UI last week was roughly the same as the prior week (an increase of 18,000). The four-week moving average of total initial claims was unchanged.

Last week was the 50th straight week total initial claims were 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 would have been higher than the sixth-worst week of the Great Recession.)

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What to watch on jobs day: Who has been hurt by the pandemic recession—and why we should ignore wage growth for now

On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) will release its latest jobs report on the state of the labor market for February 2021, exactly one year since the labor market peak before the pandemic recession hit. Overall, the labor market is down 9.9 million jobs since February 2020. And if we count how many jobs might have been created if the recession had not hit—a more appropriate counterfactual for the current hole we are in might be average job growth over the 12 months before the recession (202,000)—we are now short 12.1 million jobs since February 2020.

In this jobs day preview post, I remind readers which sectors are still experiencing the greatest shortfalls in jobs, which demographic groups have been hardest hit, and which metrics we should continue to ignore in this unusual recession.

Leisure and hospitality workers remain the hardest hit in the pandemic recession, with a 3.9 million job shortfall since February 2020 (as shown in Figure A). These losses are particularly devastating for leisure and hospitality workers and their families because they are among the lowest-paid workers in the U.S. economy.

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What we learned from the UK case rendering Uber drivers employees

The recent United Kingdom Supreme Court ruling that Uber drivers are employees, and not entrepreneurs or independent contractors, is noteworthy for many reasons. One is that the underlying Employment Tribunal judgment that it affirmed provides a deep dive into the realities of Uber driving that obliterates the many myths Uber tells about its employment arrangements—and does so in a joyful, humorous way. It is a must read.

A second reason is that the ruling points to the need for two critical items that Tanya Goldman and David Weil proposed to combat misclassification of workers as independent contractors. First, judging whether a worker is an employee or not should not be limited to the issue of who “controls” the work, an analysis that is too easily manipulated in order to get a wrong result. Rather, one should include an analysis of whether the worker has a true opportunity to be an entrepreneur—actually build a business and not just the limited freedom of choosing their hours and work location.

In addition, Uber’s response to the ruling was—predictably—that it has already changed its terms, so the ruling no longer applies. But with these changes, drivers are still denied employment status. As long as the employer-determined status quo remains—and until endless court cases and appeals are exhausted—then the workers will never really be able to secure their rights through court challenges. To change this, Goldman and Weil propose “there should be a presumption of an employment relationship the putative employer must rebut.” Let the employer prove someone is a contractor, and until the employer has done so the worker has full employment rights (right to a union, to be paid minimum wage, etc.) and access to social insurance (unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, paid sick days, etc.).

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Six ways the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act restores workers’ bargaining power

When it was passed in 1935, the National Labor Relations Act declared that its purpose was to promote the practice of collective bargaining, where workers and their union sit down with their employer to negotiate over wages, safety, fairness, and other important issues. But over time, this promise has become hollow because weaknesses in the law have been exploited by employers and the courts to undermine workers’ bargaining power. Here are six ways the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act helps to level the playing field and restore workers’ bargaining power:

  1. The PRO Act has a process for reaching a first collective bargaining agreement. When workers first form a union, too often employers drag out the bargaining process and avoid reaching an initial agreement, because there are no monetary penalties in the law for bad faith bargaining. A year after forming their union, more than half of all workers do not yet have an initial bargaining agreement with their employer. This leads to worker frustration, which employers exploit to undermine the new union. The PRO Act addresses this problem by establishing a mediation and arbitration process for reaching an initial agreement.
  2. The PRO Act requires employers to continue bargaining instead of taking unilateral action. Current law gives employers too much power to force its position on workers by unilaterally declaring that the parties have reached an impasse in bargaining and then either locking out workers—preventing them from working and getting paid—or implementing the employer’s proposals. This power, either alone or combined with the restrictions on workers’ ability to strike or put other economic pressure on the employer, puts employers in the driver’s seat in bargaining and greatly undermines workers’ bargaining power. To address this problem, the PRO Act prohibits employers from declaring impasse and locking out workers—a so-called “offensive lockout.” And the PRO Act requires employers to maintain the status quo on wages and benefits during bargaining—no more unilateral changes to put pressure on workers to cave in to the employer’s demands.
  3. The PRO Act gets the economic players to the bargaining table. Under current law, staffing firms, contractors, temporary agencies, and other employers try to evade their responsibility to bargain with workers and their union even when they have power over workers’ health and safety, schedules, wages, and other key issues. This leaves workers without the real economic players at the bargaining table. The PRO Act fixes this problem by adopting a strong joint-employer standard that will bring employers with power over wages or working conditions to the bargaining table.
  4. The PRO Act eliminates the ban on so-called “secondary” activity. In order to win a wage increase, a voice on new technology, safety improvements, or other bargaining priorities, workers need leverage to put economic pressure on their employer to accept their demands. But current law robs workers of their leverage in many ways, including a prohibition on so-called “secondary” activity that was enacted by Congress in 1947. In fact, current law instructs the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to give top priority to shutting down so-called “secondary” activity. These cases are given even higher priority than cases alleging that employers have illegally fired union activists, and statistics show this has in fact been the case. For example, in the first 12 years after the restriction on secondary activity was first implemented, the number of injunction proceedings against unions for engaging in illegal secondary activity skyrocketed by 1,188%, while virtually no injunction proceedings were brought against employers for violating workers’ rights. This restriction on secondary activity forbids workers from picketing or otherwise putting pressure on so-called “neutral” companies other than their employer, even if those companies could influence their employer’s practices by, for example, withholding purchases until workers and their employer reach a collective bargaining agreement. The restriction has been interpreted so broadly as to prohibit janitors from picketing a building management company over sexual harassment by its janitorial subcontractor. The Trump NLRB General Counsel unsuccessfully tried to argue that floating an inflatable Scabby the Rat balloon at a labor protest was illegal secondary activity, even though courts have consistently said such protests are protected by the First Amendment. Given the prevalence of subcontracting and the interrelated nature of business relationships, the ban on secondary activity does not reflect the realities of today’s business structures. It deprives workers of an important tool in the bargaining process and unfairly tips the power balance to employers. To correct this imbalance, the PRO Act repeals the ban on secondary activity.
  5. The PRO Act prohibits employers from permanently replacing strikers. Workers’ ultimate leverage in bargaining is to withhold their labor—in other words, to strike. The law technically protects workers from being fired when they go on a lawful strike, but this right has been gutted by a 1938 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that stated that employers can permanently replace, i.e., terminate, workers who are on strike over economic issues. Despite a slight increase in strike activity last year, the number of strikes continues to be at a historic low in part because of this weakness in the law. The PRO Act restores the right to strike by prohibiting employers from permanently replacing economic strikers.
  6. The PRO Act overrides state “right-to-work” laws that weaken unions. So-called right-to-work laws have nothing to do with getting or keeping a job—they are about weakening workers’ collective voice on the job. Under the law, unions are required to represent all workers protected by the collective bargaining agreement, but so-called right-to-work laws prohibit unions and employers from voluntarily agreeing that all workers covered and protected by the agreement should share in the costs of union representation through union dues or fees. This creates a “free rider” problem, where workers get the benefits of unionization but do not contribute toward the costs, creating a financial drain on unions. The PRO Act overrides state right-to-work laws and allows unions and employers to negotiate fair share agreements whereby all workers covered by the collective bargaining agreement share in the cost of representation.

Read EPI’S fact sheet on why workers need the PRO Act.

Nearly a year into the pandemic and unemployment claims remain 17 million above their pre-pandemic levels: Congress must pass $1.9 trillion relief bill

Another 1.2 million people applied for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits last week, including 730,000 people who applied for regular state UI and 451,000 who applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)—the federal program for workers who are not eligible for regular unemployment insurance, like gig workers.

The 1.2 million who applied for UI last week was a decrease of 172,000 from the prior week, reversing last week’s increase of 164,000. The four-week moving average of total initial claims was roughly unchanged (a slight decline of 8,500).

Last week was the 49th straight week total initial claims were 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 roughly the same as the ninth-worst week of the Great Recession.)

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Projected state and local revenue shortfalls are shrinking, but the value of substantial federal aid to state and local governments is not

Recently, a number of analysts have noted that the revenue shortfall for state and local governments stemming from the COVID-19 economic shock looks to have been smaller than what was forecast in the middle of last year. However, these smaller revenue shortfalls should not deter federal policymakers from including substantial aid to state and local governments in the forthcoming relief and recovery package, for a number of reasons:

  • The revenue shortfall is smaller than forecast in the middle of 2020 because the economic fallout of the COVID-19 shock has fallen so heavily on low-wage workers. While this has blunted the revenue loss because low-wage workers pay fewer taxes, it has increased fiscal demands on spending by an abnormally large amount.
  • The fiscal demands on the spending side of state and local budgets should not be defined simply by what these governments provided in public investments and safety net spending in the pre-COVID status quo. The need to “build back better” is real and should influence future plans for state and local spending.
  • Building back better will require more public investments—particularly in education and safety net programs. Crucially, large educational investments are needed just to keep educational quality constant. These investments have lagged in recent decades.
  • Currently, the federal aid to state and local government in the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan (ARP) provides two utterly crucial functions: It is the major provision that offers potential financing for public investments, and it smooths out the disbursements of aid, allowing the aid to be distributed more gradually and hence buoy growth for a longer stretch of time over the coming years. Just stripping this aid out (or significantly reducing it) would hence be extremely harmful to the overall effectiveness of the ARP.

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Chump change: The Romney–Cotton minimum wage proposal leaves 27 million workers without a pay increase

Those who had high hopes for a serious minimum wage proposal from the Republican Party will be disappointed: The recent proposal released by Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) would not even increase the minimum wage to 1960s levels, after adjusting for inflation. It is a meager increase that fails to address the problem of low pay in the U.S. economy.

The Romney–Cotton proposal would slowly raise the federal minimum wage from its current level of $7.25 per hour to $10 per hour in 2025. In contrast, the Raise the Wage Act of 2021 would raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025.

  • The Romney–Cotton proposal would leave 27.3 million workers without a pay increase, compared to the Raise the Wage Act.
  • Only 4.9 million workers, or 3.2% of the workforce, would receive a pay increase in 2025 under the Romney–Cotton plan, for a total of $3.3 billion dollars in wage increases.
  • In contrast, under the Raise the Wage Act, pay would rise for 32.2 million workers, or 21.2% of the workforce, with $108.4 billion in total wage increases.
  • 11.2 million fewer Black and Hispanic workers would receive a raise under the Romney–Cotton plan, compared with the Raise the Wage Act.
  • 16 million fewer women would see wage increases. Less than one in 20 women (4.1%) would have higher pay under the Romney–Cotton proposal, whereas the Raise the Wage Act would raise earnings for one in every four women (25.8%).
  • The average affected worker who works year-round would see their annual pay rise by $700 under the Romney–Cotton plan; under the Raise the Wage Act, the average annual pay increase would be nearly five times that amount ($3,400).

Romney–Cotton’s $10 target by 2025 is the equivalent of $9.19 per hour in today’s dollars, about 13% less than what the minimum wage was at its high-water mark in 1968.

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Congress should think big about the Postal Service’s future: Policymakers should focus on rebuilding the Postal Service after the Trump years

This morning, the House Oversight Committee will hold its first hearing on the U.S. Postal Service since Democrats gained control of the presidency and both houses of Congress. Committee members will have the opportunity to question Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who in his short tenure has severely damaged the Postal Service’s reputation for timely service.

(Related: REPORT The War Against the Postal Service: Postal services should be expanded for the public good, not diminished by special interests.)

DeJoy, a former logistics executive who last year tussled with a federal judge about mail delays, may need to be reminded that he serves the public. USPS board vacancies give President Biden the opportunity to install a Democratic majority on the board this year and potentially oust DeJoy—though this would take some wrangling. The prospect of a newly configured board may make DeJoy more cooperative than he was in the lead-up to the election, when former President Trump planted fears, which mail slowdowns under DeJoy seemed to confirm, that voting by mail was iffy.

In the end, concerns that ballots wouldn’t be delivered in time didn’t materialize. But millions unnecessarily put their health at risk to vote in person during a deadly pandemic. And Trump’s attacks on mail voting emboldened Republicans in their efforts to limit absentee voting to red state seniors and other groups who tend to vote Republican.

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Learning during the pandemic: Lessons from the research on education in emergencies for COVID-19 and afterwards

In our recent report, COVID-19 and student performance, equity, and U.S. education policy, we covered the “education in emergencies” research, a body of work that is particularly relevant now to understand the COVID-19 pandemic’s consequences and guide our preparations for its aftermath. This research examines the provision of education in emergency and post-emergency situations caused by pandemics, other natural disasters, and conflicts and wars, often in some of the most troubled countries in the world. Approximately 50 million children are out of school in conflict-affected countries around the world—four times as many as in the 1980s—and we can expect that number to rise due to increased natural disasters and the growing impacts of climate change.

This fascinating research had, until now, gone largely unnoticed to us due to the perceived lack of relevance for guiding domestic education policy in the United States and many of our peer nations. (For those interested, see a recent summary of the research here.) But as we learned when we wrote our report, this research offers four lessons that can help frame the current crisis and plan for the rebuilding of our education system post-pandemic.

First, the research on education in emergencies is extremely clear on the negative consequences of these emergencies on children’s development and learning, not to mention the trauma and stress that some experience in the most serious events. Emergencies, especially the catastrophic ones that this work specializes in, lead to undeniably negative impacts on both educational processes and outcomes. Moreover, the most disadvantaged population subgroups often experience the worst—and longest lasting—consequences.

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Unemployment insurance claims rose last week: Congress must act before mid-March, or millions will lose benefits

Another 1.4 million people applied for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits last week, including 861,000 people who applied for regular state UI and 516,000 who applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). The 1.4 million who applied for UI last week was an increase of 187,000 from the prior week, mostly due to an unexpected increase in PUA—the federal program for workers who are not eligible for regular unemployment insurance, like gig workers. The surge in PUA was due entirely to large increase in PUA claims in Ohio, which may be tied to fraudulent filings in the state. The four-week moving average of total initial claims rose by 21,000.

Last week was the 48th straight week total initial claims were 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 greater than the second-worst week of the Great Recession.)

Figure A

Continuing unemployment claims in all programs, March 23, 2019–January 30, 2021: *Use caution interpreting trends over time because of reporting issues (see below)*

Date Regular state UI PEUC PUA Other programs (mostly EB and STC)
2019-03-23 1,905,627 31,510
2019-03-30 1,858,954 31,446
2019-04-06 1,727,261 30,454
2019-04-13 1,700,689 30,404
2019-04-20 1,645,387 28,281
2019-04-27 1,630,382 29,795
2019-05-04 1,536,652 27,937
2019-05-11 1,540,486 28,727
2019-05-18 1,506,501 27,949
2019-05-25 1,519,345 26,263
2019-06-01 1,535,572 26,905
2019-06-08 1,520,520 25,694
2019-06-15 1,556,252 26,057
2019-06-22 1,586,714 25,409
2019-06-29 1,608,769 23,926
2019-07-06 1,700,329 25,630
2019-07-13 1,694,876 27,169
2019-07-20 1,676,883 30,390
2019-07-27 1,662,427 28,319
2019-08-03 1,676,979 27,403
2019-08-10 1,616,985 27,330
2019-08-17 1,613,394 26,234
2019-08-24 1,564,203 27,253
2019-08-31 1,473,997 25,003
2019-09-07 1,462,776 25,909
2019-09-14 1,397,267 26,699
2019-09-21 1,380,668 26,641
2019-09-28 1,390,061 25,460
2019-10-05 1,366,978 26,977
2019-10-12 1,384,208 27,501
2019-10-19 1,416,816 28,088
2019-10-26 1,420,918 28,576
2019-11-02 1,447,411 29,080
2019-11-09 1,457,789 30,024
2019-11-16 1,541,860 31,593
2019-11-23 1,505,742 29,499
2019-11-30 1,752,141 30,315
2019-12-07 1,725,237 32,895
2019-12-14 1,796,247 31,893
2019-12-21 1,773,949 29,888
2019-12-28 2,143,802 32,517
2020-01-04 2,245,684 32,520
2020-01-11 2,137,910 33,882
2020-01-18 2,075,857 32,625
2020-01-25 2,148,764 35,828
2020-02-01 2,084,204 33,884
2020-02-08 2,095,001 35,605
2020-02-15 2,057,774 34,683
2020-02-22 2,101,301 35,440
2020-02-29 2,054,129 33,053
2020-03-07 1,973,560 32,803
2020-03-14 2,071,070 34,149
2020-03-21 3,410,969 36,758
2020-03-28 8,158,043 0 52,494 48,963
2020-04-04 12,444,309 3,802 69,537 64,201
2020-04-11 16,249,334 31,426 216,481 89,915
2020-04-18 17,756,054 63,720 1,172,238 116,162
2020-04-25 21,723,230 91,724 3,629,986 158,031
2020-05-02 20,823,294 173,760 6,361,532 175,289
2020-05-09 22,725,217 252,257 8,120,137 216,576
2020-05-16 18,791,926 252,952 11,281,930 226,164
2020-05-23 19,022,578 546,065 10,010,509 247,595
2020-05-30 18,548,442 1,121,306 9,597,884 259,499
2020-06-06 18,330,293 885,802 11,359,389 325,282
2020-06-13 17,552,371 783,999 13,093,382 336,537
2020-06-20 17,316,689 867,675 14,203,555 392,042
2020-06-27 16,410,059 956,849 12,308,450 373,841
2020-07-04 17,188,908 964,744 13,549,797 495,296
2020-07-11 16,221,070 1,016,882 13,326,206 513,141
2020-07-18 16,691,210 1,122,677 13,259,954 518,584
2020-07-25 15,700,971 1,193,198 10,984,864 609,328
2020-08-01 15,112,240 1,262,021 11,504,089 433,416
2020-08-08 14,098,536 1,376,738 11,221,790 549,603
2020-08-15 13,792,016 1,381,317 13,841,939 469,028
2020-08-22 13,067,660 1,434,638 15,164,498 523,430
2020-08-29 13,283,721 1,547,611 14,786,785 490,514
2020-09-05 12,373,201 1,630,711 11,808,368 529,220
2020-09-12 12,363,489 1,832,754 12,153,925 510,610
2020-09-19 11,561,158 1,989,499 10,686,922 589,652
2020-09-26 10,172,332 2,824,685 10,978,217 579,582
2020-10-03 8,952,580 3,334,878 10,450,384 668,691
2020-10-10 8,038,175 3,711,089 10,622,725 615,066
2020-10-17 7,436,321 3,983,613 9,332,610 778,746
2020-10-24 6,837,941 4,143,389 9,433,127 746,403
2020-10-31 6,452,002 4,376,847 8,681,647 806,430
2020-11-07 6,037,690 4,509,284 9,147,753 757,496
2020-11-14 5,890,220 4,569,016 8,869,502 834,740
2020-11-21 5,213,781 4,532,876 8,555,763 741,078
2020-11-28 5,766,130 4,801,408 9,244,556 834,685
2020-12-05 5,457,941 4,793,230 9,271,112 841,463
2020-12-12 5,393,839 4,810,334 8,453,940 937,972
2020-12-19 5,205,841 4,491,413 8,383,387 1,070,810
2020-12-26 5,347,440 4,166,261 7,442,888 1,450,438
2021-01-02 5,727,359 3,026,952 5,707,397 1,526,887
2021-01-09 5,446,993 3,863,008 7,334,682 1,638,247
2021-01-16 5,188,211 3,604,894 7,218,801 1,826,573
2021-01-23 5,156,985 4,779,341 7,943,448 1,785,954
2021-01-30 5,003,107 4,061,305 7,685,389 1,590,360

 

ChartData Download data

The data below can be saved or copied directly into Excel.

Caution: Trends over time in PUA claims may be distorted because when an individual is owed retroactive payments, some states report all retroactive PUA claims during the week the individual received their payment.

Click here for notes.

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.

Source: U.S. Employment and Training Administration, Initial Claims [ICSA], retrieved from Department of Labor (DOL), https://oui.doleta.gov/unemploy/docs/persons.xls and https://www.dol.gov/ui/data.pdf, February 18, 2021.

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Figure A shows continuing claims in all programs over time (the latest data for this are for January 30th). Continuing claims are currently more than 16 million above where they were a year ago. Further, there are 25.5 million workers—15.0% of the workforce—who were either unemployed, otherwise out of work because of COVID-19, or had seen a drop in hours and pay because of the pandemic.

The December 11-week extensions of PEUC and PUA just kick the can down the road—they are not long enough. Congress must pass further extensions well before mid-March, or millions will exhaust benefits at that time, when the virus is still rampant and the labor market is still weak. Roughly $2 trillion in relief and recovery is crucial to keep millions of families afloat.

There are 18 million more continuing UI claims than one year ago: Congress must pass relief package

Another 1.1 million people applied for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits last week, including 793,000 people who applied for regular state UI and 335,000 who applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). The 1.1 million who applied for UI last week was roughly unchanged from the prior week (down 53,000). The four-week moving average of total claims was also flat (down 15,000). Total initial claims are roughly where they were in mid-October.

Last week was the 47th straight week total initial claims were 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 greater than the third-worst week of the Great Recession.)

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U.S. trade deficit hits record high in 2020: The Biden administration must prioritize rebuilding domestic manufacturing

The U.S. Census Bureau reported recently that the U.S. goods trade deficit reached a record of $915.8 billion in 2020, an increase of $51.5 billion (6.0%). The broader goods and services deficit reached $678.7 billion in 2020, an increase of $101.9 billion (17.7%). The U.S. goods trade deficit in 2020 was the largest on record, and the goods and services deficit was the largest since 2008.

The rapid growth of U.S. trade deficits reflects the combined effects of the COVID-19 crisis, which caused U.S. exports to fall by more ($217.7 billion) than imports ($166.2 billion), and by the persistent failure of U.S. trade and exchange rate policies over the past two decades. The single most important cause of large and growing trade deficits is persistent overvaluation of the U.S. dollar, which makes imports artificially cheap and U.S. exports less competitive.

The U.S. goods trade deficit is increasingly dominated by trade in manufactured products, as shown in the figure below. The manufacturing trade deficit reached record highs of $897.7 billion—98% of the total U.S. goods trade deficit—and 4.3% of U.S. GDP in 2020. Primarily due to these rapidly growing manufacturing trade deficits, the U.S. lost nearly 5 million manufacturing jobs and 91,000 manufacturing plants between 1997 and 2018 alone, and an additional 582,000 manufacturing jobs in 2020.

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A stalled recovery: Hires fall in the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey

Last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that, as of the middle of January, the economy was still 9.9 million jobs below where it was in February 2020. This translates into a 12.1 million job shortfall when using a reasonable counterfactual of job growth if the recession hadn’t occurred. Today’s BLS Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) reports little change in December, a clear sign that the recovery is not charging ahead. In fact, hiring and job openings are below where they were before the recession hit, which makes it impossible to recover anytime soon when we have such a massive hole to fill in the labor market.

In December, job openings were little changed while hires softened considerably, falling from 5.9 million to 5.5 million. In particular, hiring decreased in leisure and hospitality—in both accommodation and food services and in arts, entertainment, and recreation. Hiring also declined in transportation, warehousing, and utilities.

One of the most striking indicators from today’s report is the job seekers ratio—the ratio of unemployed workers (averaged for mid-December and mid-January) to job openings (at the end of December). On average, there were 10.4 million unemployed workers compared with only 6.6 million job openings. This translates into a job seekers ratio of about 1.6 unemployed workers to every job opening. Put another way, for every 16 workers who were officially counted as unemployed, there were only available jobs for 10 of them. That means, no matter what they did, there were no jobs for 3.8 million unemployed workers. And this misses the fact that many more weren’t counted among the unemployed: The economic pain remains widespread with 25.5 million workers hurt by the coronavirus downturn.

On the whole, the U.S. economy is seeing a significantly slower hiring pace than we experienced in May or June. In December, hiring was below where it was before the recession, a big problem given that we have only recovered just over half of the job losses from this spring. And job openings are now substantially below where they were before the recession began (6.6 million at the end of December, compared to 7.1 million on average in the year prior to the recession). With hiring and job openings at these levels, the economy is facing a long, slow recovery without additional action from Congress.

Policymakers need to act now at the scale of the problem to address the continuing economic crisis.

CBO analysis confirms that a $15 minimum wage raises earnings of low-wage workers, reduces inequality, and has significant and direct fiscal effects: Large progressive redistribution of income caused by higher minimum wage leads to significant and cross-cutting fiscal effects

This post has been revised slightly as of February 12. Specifically, it refers only to a literature review by Dube (2019) on the employment effects of the minimum wage on the low-wage workforce. It also does not specifically quantify the influence that employment effect assumptions have on the Congressional Budget Office’s estimated budgetary effects, since it is not possible to do that without additional information that is not published in CBO’s report.

Today’s analysis from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) highlights a number of things that policymakers should keep in mind as they consider minimum wage legislation in the upcoming Congress. First, the benefits of passing a significant increase in the federal minimum wage—like the Raise the Wage Act of 2021—are enormous. Today’s CBO analysis indicates that raising the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025 would benefit 27 million workers and would lead to a 10-year increase in wages of $333 billion for the low-wage workforce—the same workforce that has borne the brunt of the COVID-19 economic shock and worked in essential jobs that have kept the economy going. In short, given which parts of the workforce have economically suffered the most from the pandemic, it seems more than appropriate to include a minimum wage increase in any relief and rescue package. Second, the federal minimum wage is a powerful policy instrument to redistribute income and bargaining power towards low-wage workers, and as a result it has very large gross fiscal effects on both federal revenue and federal spending.

In our analysis released last week, we highlighted a number of large gross changes to both spending and revenue that were likely to result from the large increase in earnings for low-wage workers if the minimum wage was significantly increased.1 In particular, we estimated that by raising earnings of low-wage workers, a $15 minimum wage by 2025 would significantly reduce spending on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Earned Income and Child Tax Credits.2 CBO’s analysis today also estimates outlays would fall for these public assistance programs, as they predict the higher minimum wage would lift nearly 1 million people out of poverty.

CBO also estimates gross changes on the spending and the tax side of the federal budget from both the earnings increase of low-wage workers and assumptions regarding how this earnings increase is “financed.” They find large gross changes that net out to a small increase in budget deficits. These differences in emphasis and bottom-line numbers between independent analyses like ours and the CBO numbers today should not distract from the agreed-upon finding by all analyses of this issue: The effects of a significant increase in the federal minimum wage on the federal budget are large.

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The Biden rescue plan is neither risky nor a distraction from structural issues

Economist Larry Summers raised fears today that the Biden administration’s economic rescue plan might go too far, leading to economic overheating or squandering political and economic space for long-run reforms down the road. Neither of these fears are very compelling.

On the first–the danger of economic overheating–there’s not much more to add to what I and several others have already said on this: The U.S. economy has run far too-cool for decades, and this has stunted growth and deprived millions of potential job opportunities and tens of millions of potential opportunities for faster pay raises. Frequently, those worried about overheating cite current estimates from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) of the “output gap”—the gap between income generated in today’s economy and what could be generated (or potential output) if there was no downward pressure on spending by households, businesses, and governments (aggregate demand). These current CBO estimates look relatively small compared to the Biden rescue plan’s fiscal support. But, these current estimates are almost certainly too-small. To provide just one piece of evidence—these estimates suggest that the economy was running above potential output in 2019 before COVID-19struck. But there was no evidence of overheating that year—price inflation was tame and wage growth actually decelerated.

If the vaccines take hold and there is a significant relaxation of social distancing measures in the coming year, the economic relief we’ve provided so far through this crisis and the Biden plan could combine to see the economy spring to life and generate a recovery far faster than what we’ve seen in the past few recessions. If this happens, and if the unemployment rate falls far beneath what it was in the pre-COVID period and stays below this for a few years, this will be an affirmatively good thing, not something to fear.Read more

The economy Trump handed off to President Biden: 25.5 million workers—15.0% of the workforce—hit by the coronavirus crisis in January

The official unemployment rate was 6.3% in January—matching the maximum unemployment rate of the early 2000s downturn—and the official number of unemployed workers was 10.1 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, these official numbers are a vast undercount of the number of workers being harmed by the weak labor market. In fact, 25.5 million workers—15.0% of the workforce—are either unemployed, otherwise out of work due to the pandemic, or employed but experiencing a drop in hours and pay.

Here are the missing factors:

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The PRO Act is pro-worker: How the act would restore workers’ freedom to form a union

The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act would strengthen workers’ rights to form a union and negotiate with their employers for better wages and working conditions. Specifically, it would reform our nation’s labor law so that private-sector employers can’t perpetually stall union elections and contract negotiations and coerce and intimidate workers seeking to unionize. The PRO Act:

Gives workers more control

Under the PRO Act, workers and the National Labor Relations Board, not employers, control the timing of union elections and employers can’t force employees to attend anti-union meetings.

Imposes real penalties when employers break the law

Under the PRO Act, employers and corporate executives are penalized for illegally retaliating against workers trying to organize, and workers get monetary damages or other remedies if they are illegally fired or harmed; fired workers must also be reinstated while their cases are pending.

Creates a roadmap to a first contract

Under the PRO Act, employers and workers have a set process to follow to negotiate a first union contract, and if they can’t reach an agreement they go to binding arbitration.

Strengthens strikes

Under the PRO ACT, employers are prohibited from permanently replacing workers when they strike, and workers are no longer banned from engaging in so-called “secondary” activity, such as boycotts, seeking leverage in negotiations.

Cracks down on worker misclassification

Under the PRO Act, workers can’t be wrongly deprived of their organizing and bargaining rights by being misclassified as supervisors or independent contractors.


For more on the comprehensive set of reforms in the PRO Act, see the EPI chart “How the PRO Act Restores Workers’ Right to Unionize.”

What to watch on jobs day: The giant job deficit left by the pandemic

On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) will release its latest jobs report on the state of the labor market for January 2021. The pandemic recession has caused immense damage to the health and economic well-being of millions of people for over 10 months. The economic pain easily extends to nearly 27 million workers in the economy today, and that doesn’t include those who had lost their jobs and regained employment but got behind on their bills or those who lost loved ones and providers to illness. It is imperative that policymakers act now at the scale of the problem.

Now that the economic losses have dragged on for this long, it’s important to consider the job deficit in light of an appropriate counterfactual. The employment losses in March and April totaled 22.2 million, while the economy gained 12.5 million jobs between May and November. In the figure below, note the significant slow down in job growth in each successive month since June. Then, in December, the U.S. economy experienced a loss of 140,000 jobs. Given low actual seasonal hiring in the pandemic, seasonal adjustments made the December numbers look worse than they really were and will make the January numbers look better than they were. The average job change in December and January will provide a better sense of current labor market momentum. Setting that issue aside, it’s clear that the labor market was down 9.8 million jobs between February and December.Read more

Unemployment claims topped 1.1 million last week: Congress must pass bold relief measures to keep crucial programs from expiring

Another 1.1 million people applied for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits last week, including 779,000 people who applied for regular state UI and 349,000 who applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). The 1.1 million who applied for UI last week was a decrease of 88,000 from the prior week, but the four-week moving average of total initial claims ticked up by 51,000—back to where it was in mid-October.

Last week was the 46th straight week total initial claims were 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 greater than the third-worst week of the Great Recession.) I should note that throughout this post I use seasonally adjusted data where I can, but for comparisons to the Great Recession I use not-seasonally-adjusted data, since the Department of Labor (DOL)’s improved seasonal adjustments aren’t available before the week ending August 29, 2020.

Most states provide just 26 weeks of regular benefits, meaning many workers are exhausting their regular state UI benefits. In the most recent data (the week ending January 23), continuing claims for regular state benefits dropped by 193,000. After a worker exhausts regular state benefits, they can move onto Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which is an additional 24 weeks of regular state UI (the December COVID-19 relief bill increased the number of weeks of PEUC eligibility by 11, from 13 to 24).Read more

Learning during the pandemic: Making social and emotional learning front and center

The prolonged school lockdowns that, starting in early spring of 2020, dismantled children’s routines, including normal school days, also blocked their access to the basic supports that schools provide—including organized recreation, and, of course, the face-to-face contact with teachers and friends that is fundamental to child development. It thus should be no surprise that the pandemic has not only led to reduced student performance, on average, but also stretched to the limit children’s social and emotional wellbeing.

What, in education policy and practice, we call “social and emotional learning” (SEL) has long been known to be important for student development and academic success, but the pandemic has emphasized the need to elevate its importance. Indeed, as the pandemic unfolded, it was clear that SEL, or children’s “patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors,” are at least as critical as other traditional academic competencies. We saw that empathy, resilience, and the ability to cope with anxiety, turned out to have major impacts on children’s daily lives, and must be emphasized along with algebra, history, social sciences, or foreign languages.

There is a threefold explanation—that contains the good, bad, and ugly— as to why and how the pandemic has highlighted that need, and as to which lessons education policy can learn as we move forward.

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1.3 million people applied for unemployment insurance last week: Policymakers must pass crucial relief and recovery measures

This morning the Department of Labor (DOL) released the first official economic data collected during the Biden presidency—initial unemployment insurance claims from last week (well, half of last week was in the Biden presidency). What it shows is that Biden inherited an extremely weak labor market.

Another 1.3 million people applied for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits last week, including 847,000 people who applied for regular state UI and 427,000 who applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). The 1.3 million who applied for UI last week was a decrease of 87,000 from the prior week, but the four-week moving average of total initial claims ticked up by 45,000. The four-week moving average of total initial claims has risen back to roughly where it was in mid-October.

Last week was the 45th straight week total initial claims were 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 greater than the second-worst week of the Great Recession.) I should note that throughout this post I use seasonally adjusted data where I can, but for comparisons to the Great Recession I use not-seasonally-adjusted data, since DOL’s improved seasonal adjustments aren’t available before the week ending Aug. 29, 2020.

Most states provide just 26 weeks of regular benefits, meaning many workers are exhausting their regular state UI benefits. In the most recent data (the week ending Jan. 16), continuing claims for regular state benefits dropped by 203,000. After a worker exhausts regular state benefits, they can move onto Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which is an additional 24 weeks of regular state UI (the December COVID-19 relief bill increased the number of weeks of PEUC eligibility by 11, from 13 to 24).

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President Biden inherits a weak labor market due to inadequate COVID-19 response: Biden and Congress must make stimulus its first priority

This morning, the Department of Labor (DOL) released some of the last unemployment insurance (UI) claims data of the Trump era. That means this release helps us understand the economy President Biden just inherited. Here’s what it shows.

Another 1.3 million people applied for UI benefits last week, including 900,000 people who applied for regular state UI and 424,000 who applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). The 1.3 million who applied for UI last week was an increase of 113,000 from the prior week. The increase underscores that layoffs are increasing as the virus surges. The four-week moving average of total initial claims is now back to where it was in mid-October.

Last week was the 44th straight week total initial claims were 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 greater than the worst week of the Great Recession.) I should note that throughout this post I use seasonally adjusted data where I can, but for comparisons to the Great Recession I use not-seasonally-adjusted data, since DOL’s improved seasonal adjustments aren’t available before the week ending August 29, 2020.

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Martin Luther King called for leaders with ‘sound integrity’

Two weeks ago, the 117th Congress was sworn in. In two days, Joseph R. Biden Jr. will take the oath of office and become the 46th president of the United States. Between these two pivotal moments, with our nation’s leaders entering office during turbulent times, it is fitting to reflect on what Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—a leader among leaders, whose legacy we celebrate today—had to say about leadership.

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The U.S. economy could use some ‘overheating’: Biden’s relief and recovery plan meets the scale of the economic crisis

Key takeaways:

  • President-elect Biden’s recently announced relief and recovery plan is highly unlikely to cause economic “overheating”—and it would be a sign of its success if it did.
  • Economic “overheating” generally means large and prolonged increase in inflation and/or interest rates, but the U.S. economy has run far “too cold” for decades, largely due to the enormous rise in income inequality redistributing income to richer households that save most of their income. Unless inequality is substantially reversed, economic overheating is highly unlikely.
  • Even when the unemployment rate was 3.7% in 2019, there was no sign at all of economic overheating. Any relief and recovery plan would have to push the unemployment far beneath this for an extended period of time before any real overheating could happen.
  • Common metrics that deficit hawks often point to as evidence of economic overheating are not convincing.
    • The debt service burden is actually historically low in recent years due to the too-cold economy of recent decades.
    • The overall ratio of federal debt to GDP would actually likely be lower years from now if Congress passed the Biden plan, because such plans would increase GDP.

Recent proposals for large-scale fiscal relief and recovery from the economic effects of COVID-19 have drawn criticism that they could lead to “overheating” of the U.S. economy. These criticisms should be ignored. Proposals under discussion—including Biden’s economic plan introduced tonight—are highly unlikely to lead to any durable uptick in inflation or interest rates (the normal indicators of “overheating”) and even if they did, these higher interest rates and inflation would be a welcome sign of economic healing, not something to worry about.

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Unemployment claims increase as COVID-19 surges

Another 1.2 million people applied for Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits last week, including 965,000 people who applied for regular state UI and 284,000 who applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). The 1.2 million who applied for UI last week was an increase of 304,000 from the prior week. The increase was due in part to data volatility during a messy time for UI data—the holidays, the President delaying signing the relief bill until the day after the pandemic programs expired—but the 181,000 rise in seasonally adjusted regular state claims suggests layoffs are increasing as the COVID-19 pandemic surges.

Last week was the 43rd straight week total initial claims were 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 greater than the worst week of the Great Recession.)

Most states provide just 26 weeks of regular benefits, so many workers are exhausting their regular state UI benefits. In the most recent data, however, continuing claims for regular state UI rose by 199,000, meaning new continuing claims were outpacing exhaustions. After an individual exhausts regular state benefits, they can move onto Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which is an additional 24 weeks of regular state UI (the December COVID-19 relief bill increased the number of weeks of PEUC eligibility by 11, from 13 to 24).

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