Updated state unemployment data: Congress has failed to act as jobless claims remain high and workers scrape by on inadequate unemployment benefits

The most recent unemployment insurance (UI) claims data released on Thursday show that another 1.4 million people filed for UI benefits last week. For the past four 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 to sustain workers and their families through lengthy periods of joblessness.

In a largely unserious stunt, the Trump administration has issued an executive order that, at best, will slash the benefit in half to $300. On its own, this cut will cause such a huge drop in spending that it will cost 2.6 million jobs over the next year. In addition to being woefully insufficient, this aid will take many weeks to reach jobless workers, exclude low-wage workers, and only last through September with its current funding. Furthermore, it is distracting from the dire need for Congressional action to strengthen UI benefits.

To give a sense of how many workers the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress are leaving 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). The vast majority of states are reporting that more than one in 10 workers are claiming UI. Ten states and the District of Columbia report that more than one in five of their pre-pandemic labor force is now claiming UI under any of these programs. The components of this total are listed in Table 1.1

Three states had more than 1 million workers either receiving regular UI benefits or waiting for their claim to be approved: California (3.1 million), New York (1.5 million), and Texas (1.2 million). Three additional states had more than half a million workers receiving or awaiting benefits: Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Georgia.

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 four states and the District of Columbia, more than one in seven workers are receiving regular UI benefits or waiting on their claim to be approved: Hawaii (18.3%), the District of Columbia (16.4%), California (15.8%), New York (15.8%), and Nevada (14.8%).

Nine states reported that more than one in 10 workers are currently claiming PUA: California (18.0%), Rhode Island (17.6%), Kansas (16.8%), Hawaii (15.1%), Pennsylvania (15.1%), Michigan (14.5%), New York (14.3%), Massachusetts (13.4%), and Arkansas (10.9%). 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.

Figure A

Cumulative jobless claims by state: Numbers and shares of workers either receiving unemployment benefits or waiting for approval during the week ending August 22

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
Alabama 54,882 2.4% 39,259 1.7% 173,266 7.7%
Alaska 35,748 10.3% 11,322 3.3% 52,195 15.1%
Arizona 213,690 5.9% 338,301 9.4% 570,873 15.8%
Arkansas 49,757 3.6% 148,397 10.9% 222,392 16.3%
California 3,078,928 15.8% 3,507,727 18.0% 7,079,142 36.3%
Colorado 189,048 5.9% 107,264 3.4% 311,213 9.8%
Connecticut 237,359 12.3% 60,970 3.2% 329,007 17.0%
Delaware 38,093 7.8% 8,473 1.7% 49,168 10.0%
Washington D.C. 68,127 16.4% 14,234 3.4% 85,429 20.6%
Florida 477,369 4.6% 18,630 0.2% 551,751 5.3%
Georgia 601,730 11.7% 268,929 5.2% 871,854 16.9%
Hawaii 122,179 18.3% 101,064 15.1% 223,710 33.4%
Idaho 18,756 2.1% 15,485 1.7% 40,606 4.6%
Illinois 618,485 9.7% 127,412 2.0% 815,015 12.7%
Indiana 180,114 5.3% 148,226 4.4% 337,517 9.9%
Iowa 91,202 5.2% 15,585 0.9% 125,466 7.2%
Kansas 87,655 5.9% 250,699 16.8% 350,136 23.4%
Kentucky 143,607 6.9% 34,823 1.7% 178,915 8.6%
Louisiana 253,758 12.0% 143,168 6.8% 400,920 19.0%
Maine 41,871 6.0% 27,683 4.0% 78,442 11.3%
Maryland 177,737 5.4% 236,683 7.2% 431,634 13.2%
Massachusetts 430,868 11.2% 514,424 13.4% 996,699 26.0%
Michigan 473,025 9.6% 716,817 14.5% 1,258,491 25.4%
Minnesota 250,922 8.0% 48,643 1.6% 337,642 10.8%
Mississippi 106,851 8.4% 41,045 3.2% 156,585 12.3%
Missouri 124,604 4.0% 62,020 2.0% 216,590 7.0%
Montana 27,500 5.1% 36,650 6.8% 68,049 12.7%
Nebraska 31,411 3.0% 26,825 2.6% 63,130 6.1%
Nevada 231,500 14.8% 132,844 8.5% 385,890 24.7%
New Hampshire 49,304 6.3% 20,462 2.6% 73,333 9.4%
New Jersey 429,709 9.4% 438,134 9.6% 939,025 20.6%
New Mexico 94,709 9.8% 40,373 4.2% 141,258 14.7%
New York 1,505,573 15.8% 1,369,008 14.3% 2,998,969 31.4%
North Carolina 198,026 3.9% 186,792 3.7% 600,798 11.7%
North Dakota 20,055 5.0% 7,774 1.9% 32,451 8.0%
Ohio 337,777 5.8% 428,700 7.4% 805,480 13.8%
Oklahoma 117,270 6.4% 2,057 0.1% 119,608 6.5%
Oregon 182,821 8.7% 92,630 4.4% 342,492 16.3%
Pennsylvania 660,237 10.1% 987,351 15.1% 1,708,323 26.0%
Rhode Island 51,863 9.3% 98,428 17.6% 160,566 28.7%
South Carolina 147,301 6.2% 57,664 2.4% 231,720 9.7%
South Dakota 9,803 2.1% 3,989 0.9% 14,343 3.1%
Tennessee 210,715 6.3% 145,318 4.3% 369,561 11.0%
Texas 1,165,219 8.2% 285,764 2.0% 1,497,486 10.5%
Utah 49,774 3.1% 10,566 0.6% 68,446 4.2%
Vermont 30,090 8.8% 10,946 3.2% 42,591 12.5%
Virginia 262,605 5.9% 223,536 5.0% 529,686 11.9%
Washington 361,701 9.1% 135,019 3.4% 560,926 14.2%
West Virginia 58,501 7.3% 0 0.0% 63,408 7.9%
Wisconsin 176,681 5.7% 63,075 2.0% 267,704 8.6%
Wyoming 11,402 3.9% 2,522 0.9% 15,587 5.3%

This is an upper bound on the number of people “on” UI, for two reasons: (1) regular state UI and PUA claims should be nonoverlapping—that is how DOL has directed agencies to report them—but some individuals may be being counted twice; (2) some states are likely including some back weeks in their continuing PUA claims, which would also lead to double counting. Non-seasonally-adjusted data are used throughout. Regular state UI continued claims are for the week ending August 15; regular state UI initial claims are for the week ending August 22. PUA continued claims are for the week ending August 8; PUA initial claims are for the weeks ending August 15 and August 22. “Other programs” are continued claims in other programs for the week ending August 8. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) is the federal program for workers who are out of work because of the virus but who are not eligible for regular state unemployment insurance (UI) benefits (e.g., the self-employed). “Other programs” includes PEUC, STC, and others; a full list 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://www.dol.gov/ui/data.pdf and https://oui.doleta.gov/unemploy/claims.asp, August 27, 2020.

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With the pandemic and economic crisis persisting through the summer, workers have been experiencing long-term unemployment. As a result, workers are increasingly relying on PEUC, the 13 additional weeks of benefits available to workers who have exhausted the 26 weeks of regular benefits. However, even the cumulative 39 weeks of benefits have not been enough for some workers, so policymakers should extend the valuable PEUC program. During the week ending August 8, PEUC claims increased by more than 100,000 nationwide, as did claims under the Extend Benefits program, which provides another 13 weeks of benefits to workers (after PEUC is exhausted) in states that meet a threshold of high unemployment. Currently, the requirements for this program have been triggered in every state, meaning that workers who have exhausted PEUC can turn to the Extended Benefits program. There are now 203,188 workers claiming Extended Benefits, the highest number so far this recession.

As we look at the aggregate measures of economic harm, it is also 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. Both Black and Latinx workers are more likely than white workers to be worried about exposure to the coronavirus at work and bringing it home to their families, and Latinx workers face higher death rates from COVID-19 than white workers. Cutting off the $600 UI benefit will deepen existing racial inequalities, since Black and Latinx workers have higher unemployment rates than white workers.

In addition to extending the additional weekly $600 benefit that they have allowed to expire, Congress should provide substantial aid to state and local governments, where some workers have already lost their jobs. Without this aid, a prolonged depression is inevitable, especially if state and local governments make the same budget and employment cuts that slowed the recovery after the Great Recession. More than 5 million workers would likely lose their jobs by the end of 2021, harming women and Black workers in particular since they are disproportionately likely to work for state and local governments.

Where policymakers have failed, workers have demonstrated their power to come together and advocate for the common good, whether they are ensuring that essential workers receive the proper protective equipment or going on strike to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Unions allow workers to better their working conditions and strengthen their collective political voice, but many essential jobs are not unionized and these workers are at an even greater risk. Congress should pass policies that bolster unions in both the public and private sector. And in the long term, they must strengthen the institutions that allow us, collectively, to promote the general welfare, including unemployment insurance, public health insurance, and unions.

Table 1

New and cumulative jobless claims by state: Number of workers either receiving unemployment benefits or waiting for approval during the week ending August 22

Regular UI Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Other programs
State Most recent continued claims claims: 08/15/2020 Most recent week initial claims: 08/22/2020 Most recent continued claims claims: 08/08/2020 Total initial claims – most recent 2 weeks Most recent continued claims: 08/08/2020 Total receiving UI or waiting for approval*
Alabama 46,703 8,179 35,635 3,624 79,125 173,266
Alaska 31,173 4,575 10,743 579 5,125 52,195
Arizona 200,009 13,681 279,232 59,069 18,882 570,873
Arkansas 44,532 5,225 119,680 28,717 24,238 222,392
California 2,869,412 209,516 3,074,568 433,159 492,487 7,079,142
Colorado 182,630 6,418 79,038 28,226 14,901 311,213
Connecticut 230,958 6,401 58,351 2,619 30,678 329,007
Delaware 36,566 1,527 8,082 391 2,602 49,168
District of Columbia 66,553 1,574 13,746 488 3,068 85,429
Florida 431,646 45,723 18,630 55,752 551,751
Georgia 547,674 54,056 255,618 13,311 1,195 871,854
Hawaii 116,198 5,981 95,079 5,985 467 223,710
Idaho 15,151 3,605 14,963 522 6,365 40,606
Illinois 593,152 25,333 119,766 7,646 69,118 815,015
Indiana 169,336 10,778 135,014 13,212 9,177 337,517
Iowa 84,248 6,954 13,447 2,138 18,679 125,466
Kansas 71,819 15,836 221,885 28,814 11,782 350,136
Kentucky 127,573 16,034 29,485 5,338 485 178,915
Louisiana 242,459 11,299 132,403 10,765 3,994 400,920
Maine 40,768 1,103 25,185 2,498 8,888 78,442
Maryland 170,856 6,881 229,469 7,214 17,214 431,634
Massachusetts 413,711 17,157 489,525 24,899 51,407 996,699
Michigan 456,032 16,993 689,337 27,480 68,649 1,258,491
Minnesota 240,086 10,836 48,643 38,077 337,642
Mississippi 102,778 4,073 36,604 4,441 8,689 156,585
Missouri 116,162 8,442 58,901 3,119 29,966 216,590
Montana 25,307 2,193 33,150 3,500 3,899 68,049
Nebraska 28,707 2,704 24,472 2,353 4,894 63,130
Nevada 220,306 11,194 109,617 23,227 21,546 385,890
New Hampshire 46,839 2,465 18,546 1,916 3,567 73,333
New Jersey 410,349 19,360 408,172 29,962 71,182 939,025
New Mexico 90,033 4,676 37,087 3,286 6,176 141,258
New York 1,442,460 63,113 1,306,485 62,523 124,388 2,998,969
North Carolina 185,146 12,880 168,171 18,621 215,980 600,798
North Dakota 19,252 803 6,253 1,521 4,622 32,451
Ohio 319,658 18,119 400,193 28,507 39,003 805,480
Oklahoma 112,140 5,130 2,057 281 119,608
Oregon 177,726 5,095 87,001 5,629 67,041 342,492
Pennsylvania 633,282 26,955 909,735 77,616 60,735 1,708,323
Rhode Island 48,771 3,092 53,449 44,979 10,275 160,566
South Carolina 141,777 5,524 46,018 11,646 26,755 231,720
South Dakota 9,051 752 3,762 227 551 14,343
Tennessee 199,717 10,998 136,022 9,296 13,528 369,561
Texas 1,112,901 52,318 249,968 35,796 46,503 1,497,486
Utah 46,775 2,999 8,797 1,769 8,106 68,446
Vermont 29,444 646 10,817 129 1,555 42,591
Virginia 249,735 12,870 216,068 7,468 43,545 529,686
Washington 341,116 20,585 125,986 9,033 64,206 560,926
West Virginia 56,610 1,891 4,907 63,408
Wisconsin 162,778 13,903 58,431 4,644 27,948 267,704
Wyoming 10,556 846 2,141 381 1,663 15,587

This is an upper bound on the number of people “on” UI, for two reasons: (1) regular state UI and PUA claims should be nonoverlapping—that is how DOL has directed agencies to report them—but some individuals may be being counted twice; (2) some states are likely including some back weeks in their continuing PUA claims, which would also lead to double counting. Non-seasonally-adjusted data are used throughout. Regular state UI continued claims are for the week ending August 15; regular state UI initial claims are for the week ending August 22. PUA continued claims are for the week ending August 1; PUA initial claims are for the weeks ending August 15 and August 22. “Other programs” are continued claims in other programs for the week ending August 8. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) is the federal program for workers who are out of work because of the virus but who are not eligible for regular state unemployment insurance (UI) benefits (e.g., the self-employed). “Other programs” includes PEUC, STC, and others; a full list 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://www.dol.gov/ui/data.pdf and https://oui.doleta.gov/unemploy/claims.asp, August 27, 2020.

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Notes

1. That total is more of an upper bound, and you should exercise caution when interpreting it for three reasons: (1) It includes initial claims, which represent people who have not yet made it through the first round of processing; (2) Some individuals may be being counted twice. Regular state UI and PUA claims should not be overlapping—that is how the Department of Labor (DOL) has directed state agencies to report them—but some states may be misreporting; (3) Some states are likely including some back weeks in their continuing PUA claims, which would also lead to double counting (the discussion around Figure 3 in this paper covers this issue well). Those limitations are the reason that we have so far hesitated to publish this estimate of total claims by state. DOL has worked to overcome misreporting issues and has had enough success that we are now comfortable enough to report the totals here. However, it is clear that there is still some misreporting. Unless otherwise noted, all numbers are as reported by DOL.

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