More than 880,000 people filed new applications for unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department reported on Thursday.
The numbers are not directly comparable to previous weeks because of a change the Labor Department made in how it calculates the claims, which are seasonally adjusted. The number appears lower than the previous week’s 1 million claims, but that reflects a change in the Labor Department’s methodology rather than a strengthening of the U.S. labor market, economists say.
On an unadjusted basis, unemployment claims under state programs rose 0.9 percent from the previous week.
An additional 760,000 laid-off workers filed for jobless aid under the new pandemic unemployment assistance program, created for those not traditionally eligible for unemployment benefits like the self-employed and gig workers. That also marks a rise from the previous week’s 607,806 claims under that program.
Overall claims remain at historic highs. In total, more than 29.2 million workers are receiving unemployment insurance benefits, the Labor Department said, an increase from the prior week’s 27 million.
Why the change? The Labor Department regularly reports seasonally adjusted data, which accounts for expected changes in the labor market, such as when a large number of temporary retail employees get laid off after the holidays.
But economists say that methodology had been causing major distortions to the data during this recession, given how many workers were filing for unemployment due to unexpected coronavirus shutdowns. Experts welcome the change, which they say should make the numbers more accurate in the future, but they warn against trying to compare this week’s seasonally adjusted data to weeks prior.
Regardless of the change in calculations, non-seasonally adjusted data shows overall claims rose last week to 833,352 from 825,761 the week before.
What’s next: The Labor Department will report jobs numbers for the month of August on Friday. The July report showed an overall unemployment rate of 10.2 percent, and while most economists expect that number to fall slightly in August, many expect the pace of job growth will slow down.
This article originally appeared at Politico on August 24, 2020. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Megan Cassella is a trade reporter for POLITICO Pro. Before joining the trade team in June 2016, Megan worked for Reuters based out of Washington, covering the economy, domestic politics and the 2016 presidential campaign. It was in that role that she first began covering trade, including Donald Trump’s rise as the populist candidate vowing to renegotiate NAFTA and Hillary Clinton’s careful sidestep of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
A D.C.-area native, Megan headed south for a few years to earn her bachelor’s degree in business journalism and international politics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Now settled back inside the Beltway, Megan’s on the hunt for the city’s best Carolina BBQ — and still rooting for the Heels.
“Money spent on continuing crucial unemployment insurance provisions will help avoid a prolonged period of high unemployment that will do far more serious and persistent damage to the economy,” they write. “In the last six weeks, close to 30 million workers have applied for unemployment insurance. It’s worth noting as a point of comparison that those 30 million workers would need to be provided an extra $1,400 per weekfor a year to match the fiscal size of the 2017 tax cuts aimed at corporations and the rich.”
This blog originally appeared on Daily Kos on May 9, 2020. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.
Most of the estimated 23 million independent contractors and gig workers made newly eligible last month for unemployment benefits during the coronavirus pandemic are still waiting for relief.
Six weeks after the pandemic set off a continuing wave of massive layoffs, only 21 states have started paying out benefits to self-employed workers and others not traditionally eligible, according to the Labor Department. That’s up from 10 last week. The payments are being made under a new temporary program, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.
New Jersey is one of the states where self-employed workers are still waiting. More than 100,000 self-employed workers applied for jobless benefits there over the past several weeks, but the state won’t begin paying out the benefits until Friday, according to New Jersey state officials. They said the state will then need to take more time to verify those workers’ eligibility.
“The Department has worked hard over the past month to get this program up and running despite the unprecedented challenges of the coronavirus, and it is now available,” said New Jersey Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo. “While it will take time to determine eligibility for everyone who seeks PUA benefits, the process has begun.”
States reporting the largest number of weekly claims, including California and Florida, have just started to get their systems up and running this week.
California, which launched its new program on April 28, has received 190,000 applications already from self-employed and contract workers, according to Governor Gavin Newsom. But state officials have warned the program is threatened by its overloaded system.
“We are getting our arms around this unprecedented volume,” Newsom said Wednesday.
California’s unemployment system has been slowed and strained by the more than 3.7 million applications it’s received since layoffs began in early March, officials say. The state has distributed more than $6 billion in benefits so far.
Florida, whose unemployment system has also been overwhelmed as more than a million people struggled to get assistance, did not start accepting applications from independent contractors and those are self-employed until this past Tuesday.
The instructions sent out by the Department of Economic Opportunity urged people who had turned in applications before April 4 to try again now. DEO’s own data shows that more than 266,000 people who had applied with the state since March 15 had been deemed ineligible, although the information released by the agency does not specify why people are being turned away.
Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia affirmed last week that his agency is “working very closely every day with states across the country to help them get these benefits to the Americans who are entitled to them.”
According to DOL, it’s delivered more than $750 million of $1 billion in emergency administrative funding provided by Congress to state unemployment offices to help them handle the surge in claims and implement the new program. “As they request this funding, we’re distributing it quickly,” Scalia said. “And if they don’t request it. We’re contacting them to see how we can help.”
States have been struggling to figure out how to calculate weekly benefit levels for these self-employed workers, whose wage information may be contained on multiple forms and is harder to verify.
California, which last year passed a sweeping bill aimed at compelling businesses to reclassify many independent contractors as employees, has said gig economy workers should be eligible to apply for benefits under the state’s normal unemployment insurance program.
But somedrivers for Uber and Lyft in California say the state is calculating their weekly benefits to be $0, because their companies aren’t sharing payroll information with the state unemployment agency.
Those app-based workers must then request an investigation from the state into their wage information — adding more time to the process.
Workers have also complained they haven’t even been able to apply for benefits, hindered by jammed phone lines and crashing websites, as state unemployment agencies scrambled to beef up their systems following the passage of the massive unemployment benefit extension included under the CARES Act.
Florida’s unemployment website, which was first installed in 2013, had been routinely been flagged by state auditors before the coronarvirus outbreak started. But the surge in jobless claims overwhelmed the system, forcing the state to leave it offline for hours. It was offline all of last weekend as the state tried to play catch up on processing claims. Florida decided to start accepting paper applications due to the website’s constant failings.
The DOL’s Office of the Inspector General recently warned that state legacy computer systems used to process unemployment benefits weren’t up to the job, and threaten “the management and oversight of UI benefits.”
“The risk of fraud and improper payments is even higher under PUA because claimants can self-certify their UI qualifications,” the IG wrote, urging the DOL’s Employment and Training Administration to work with states to establish better methods of detecting fraud and recovering improper payments.
DOL officials say the department has been reaching out to the states to discuss and offer assistance with IT and call center issues.
But according to economists, all workers, including those who are eligible for traditional benefits and don’t have to apply under the new federal program, have been struggling to get the unemployment relief in their pockets.
For every 10 people who said they successfully filed for unemployment benefits during the past month, three to four additional people tried to apply but could not get through the system, according to an survey conducted by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.
In total, DOL’s data indicates only 14 percent of the 12 million workers who filed for benefits in the month of March were paid an unemployment check, said Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation. “While many of the claims that started in mid-March were likely paid not until April,” he said, “this figure is yet another sign underscoring the major structural challenges facing the unemployment program as it responds to the COVID-19 crisis.”
How an individual’s claim is processed varies widely from state to state.
“On the high end, Rhode Island made initial payments to 51 [percent] of the 60,000 individuals who filed claims,” he said. “On the low end, Florida only paid 2.4 [percent] of the 280,500 individuals who managed to file a claim, the third lowest in the country, just above Indiana, which stood at 2 [percent].”
In Iowa, one of the first states to get its PUA system up and running, officials pointed to its low unemployment rate and rurality as reasons why it was able to move so quickly.
“For the last couple years, our unemployment’s only been like 2.5 percent,” Iowa State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald said. “So our unemployment fund started out really full.”
“In a lot of areas we didn’t have the shutdown as early as some of the other states,” he added, “so we were probably in a better spot than most other states, and able to attack it.”
Eleanor Mueller, Gary Fineout, Katy Murphy and Katherine Landergan contributed to this report.
This article was originally published at Politico on April 30, 2020. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Rebecca Rainey is an employment and immigration reporter with POLITICO Pro and the author of the Morning Shift newsletter.
Prior to joining POLITICO in August 2018, Rainey covered the Occupational Safety and Health administration and regulatory reform on Capitol Hill. Her work has been published by The Washington Post and the Associated Press, among other outlets.
Rainey holds a bachelor’s degree from the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.
She was born and raised on the eastern shore of Maryland and grew up 30 minutes from the beach. She loves to camp, hike and be by the water whenever she can.
Natural disasters create major challenges for workers on at least two fronts: people who can’t get to work or whose jobs disappear and need support, and the workers who help make recovery happen are too often underpaid and exploited. Saket Soni and Andrea Cristina Mercado, the executive directors of Resilience Force and New Florida Majority, respectively, write in the Orlando Sentinelthat, after Hurricane Irma:
The human cost was also profound, as people struggled to rebuild their lives. Unfortunately, the most vulnerable often did so with little help from the government. Only 53 percent of eligible workers received disaster unemployment assistance, a cash benefit for those who lose their jobs because of a disaster. Tens of thousands stood in lines for hours at four South Florida sites in the heat to receive disaster food stamps, assistance to buy groceries and other food items, only to be turned away.
What should voters look to the next governor of Florida to do?
Some may criticize the notion of an expanded social safety net, saying that jobs, not welfare, are the solution. They could support our next governor in capitalizing on the momentum of the current movement for New Deal-style publicly funded jobs, as exemplified by Cory Booker’s Federal Job Guarantee Development Act. The next governor should also use existing work-force development or AmeriCorps funds to engage the unemployed and underemployed in high-need areas to mitigate climate change and repair, rebuild and prepare for the inevitable next disaster.
This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on October 27, 2018. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.
Thanks to a developing line of administrative appeal decisions, workers in New York State who resign their jobs due to bullying and employer abuse could still retain eligibility for unemployment benefits.
Under New York State labor law, workers who voluntarily resign without good cause are presumptively ineligible to receive unemployment benefits. Most other states follow a similar rule. Of course, this frequently leaves targets of workplace bullying in a bind when it comes to qualifying for unemployment benefits. All too often, quitting is the only way to escape the abuse.
That’s why I was so pleased to hear from James Williams, an attorney with Legal Services of Central New York, who sent news of a recent decision in a case he argued before the New York Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board.
The claimant appealed a denial of unemployment benefits holding that he voluntarily resigned his job with a local government entity, without good cause. The Administrative Law Judge overruled the denial of benefits, rendering these findings and a decision:
The undisputed credible evidence establishes that the claimant left employment voluntarily . . . after being notified . . . that he was on probation, because he felt bullied, harassed and set up by his supervisor. I credit the claimant’s credible sworn testimony that his supervisor’s repeated criticism and scolding of him in a raised voice made him feel bullied and harassed, especially in the presence of other employees. I further credit the claimant’s credible sworn testimony that the supervisor’s actions including pointing and reprimanding him, consisted of the word “stupid”, and other language which embarrassed the claimant and that the claimant believed he was being ridiculed by the supervisor. An employee is not obligated to subject himself to such behavior. Given that the claimant had complained to the employer about the supervisor’s behavior just two months earlier, and that the supervisor’s mistreatment not only continued, but escalated, I conclude that the claimant had good cause within the meaning of the unemployment insurance Law to quit when he did. Additionally, while disagreeing with a reprimand or criticism about work performance may not always constitute good cause to quit, receiving reprimands in the presence of one’s co-workers may be. . . . Under the circumstances herein, the supervisor’s treatment of the claimant exceeded the bounds of propriety, with the result that the claimant had good cause to quit. His unemployment ended under nondisqualifying conditions.
Attorney Williams relied upon previous decisions by the full Appeal Board holding that disrespectful and bullying-type behaviors that exceed the bounds of propriety (that appears to be the key phrase) may constitute good cause to voluntarily leave a job and thus not disqualify someone from receiving unemployment benefits. They may be accessed at the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board website:
Appeal Board No. 571514 (July 3, 2013)
Appeal Board No. 559667 (February 28, 2012)
Appeal Board No. 558223 (January 25, 2012)
Appeal Board No. 549810 (September 10, 2010)
Jim added in an e-mail that potential New York claimants who may fit this scenario “are advised to take steps to try and save their jobs prior to quitting. They will want to be able to show to the Department of Labor and to an ALJ that they took steps to try to change the situation – complaining to management, human resources, etc. – before quitting.”
Using These Decisions
The reasoning in these decisions is limited to unemployment benefits cases. Furthermore, the holdings of these cases are not binding upon unemployment benefits claims in other states. However, they can be brought to the attention of unemployment insurance agencies elsewhere as persuasive precedent.
In addition, this serves as an important lesson to those who may have been initially denied unemployment benefits after leaving a job due to bullying behaviors. It is not uncommon for initial denials to be reversed on appeal, and these cases provide genuine reason for optimism in situations involving abusive work environments.
About the Author: David Yamada is a tenured Professor of Law and Director of the New Workplace Institute at Suffolk University Law School in Boston. He is an internationally recognized authority on the legal aspects of workplace bullying, and he is author of model anti-bullying legislation — dubbed the Healthy Workplace Bill — that has become the template for law reform efforts across the country. In addition to teaching at Suffolk, he holds numerous leadership positions in non-profit and policy advocacy organizations.
An interesting look at the unemployment rate. “What is currently a temporary long-term unemployment problem runs the risk of morphing into a permanent and costly increase in the unemployment rate” unless Congress takes action to create jobs.
Even though the economy is improving, we need to do more to ensure the long term unemployed get back on their feet. Long term unemployment makes it harder and harder to provide for one’s family, and causes dramatic increases in mental illness. It’s time Washington gets busy putting people back to work.
This article was originally posted by ChangeToWin on January 11, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Change to Win is an organization created by over 5.5 million workers – if corporations can join together to hire an army of lobbyists, working and middle class Americans must also band together and restore balance by making sure we have a strong voice and a seat at the table again.
(Colleen Gartner is an intern at Workplace Fairness.)
A constant conservative charge against President Obama is that he is inherently anti-business. However, businesses keep defying the storyline by making larger and larger profits, rebounding nicely out of the Great Recession.
In the third quarter of this year, “corporate earnings were $1.75 trillion, up 18.6% from a year ago.” Corporations are currently making more as a percentage of the economy than they ever have since such records were kept. But at the same time, wages as a percentage of the economy are at an all-time low, as this chart shows. (The red line is corporate profits; the blue line is private sector wages.):
Meanwhile, workers are getting the short end of the stick. As CNN Money explained, “a separate government reading shows that total wages have now fallen to a record low of 43.5% of GDP. Until 1975, wages almost always accounted for at least half of GDP, and had been as high as 49% as recently as early 2001.”
This post was originally posted on Think Progress on December 3, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Pat Garofalo is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Pat’s work has also appeared in The Nation, U.S. News & World Report, The Guardian, the Washington Examiner, and In These Times. He has been a guest on MSNBC and Al-Jazeera television, as well as many radio shows. Pat graduated from Brandeis University, where he was the editor-in-chief of The Brandeis Hoot, Brandeis’ community newspaper, and worked for the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life.
This month marks the end of the federal extended unemployment insurance benefits program for 35 states with the nation’s highest jobless rates. More than half a million long-term jobless workers have lost their unemployment lifeline.
Chad Stone of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) says:
As we’ve explained previously, EB [extended benefits] will no longer be available in any state, not because most states’ economies have improved to anywhere near pre-recession conditions, but because they have not significantly deteriorated in the past three years.
The end of the program that provided up to 20 additional weeks of jobless benefits—in addition to the states’ usual 26 weeks—and the additional weeks available under the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC), was part of legislation passed in February to keep the EUC alive through 2012.
That bill reduced the number of weeks of available to jobless workers and also changed the formulas that would trigger extra federal jobless benefits, in effect, cutting benefits even further by setting higher thresholds for unemployment pain. Click here for a closer look from the National Employment Law Project (NELP).
are nudging some Americans into poverty, straining social services just as states and localities face their own budget woes and further crimping weak economic growth as those who lose benefits spend less.
The average unemployed American has been out of work 40 weeks, according to the Labor Department, and there are still about three jobless people for every job opening.
If Congress doesn’t act when it returns after August recess, the situation for long-term jobless workers will grow even more dire because the entire federal EUC expires at the end of the year, leaving workers only state benefits upon which to rely.
Legislation to keep the EUC operating is expected. But with the Republican lawmakers’ track record of blocking, filibustering and other delaying tactics in previous attempts to extend the federal unemployment insurance benefits, the outlook is uncertain.
NELP’s George Wentworth told USA Today:
There’s going to be lots of people without any income still unable to find a job. You’re going to see these people not be able to feed their families and not able to pay their mortgages. It will have a devastating impact on a lot of local economies.
This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on August 7, 2012. Reprinted with permission.
About the author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL-CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.
Over the past four years, a whopping 36 states have had to borrow from the federal government to pay unemployment insurance benefits. Obviously a recession with high unemployment has a lot to do with that, but not as much as you might think. Tax breaks for businesses (PDF) are once again a hidden culprit for state budget problems.
A new report from the National Employment Law Project shows that, recession or not, many states could have avoided borrowing for unemployment payments if they hadn’t spent a decade weakening their unemployment insurance trust funds by slashing employer contributions:
Between 1995 and 2005, 31 states reduced employer contribution rates by at least one?fifth (Henchman 2011, 16), causing the nation’s average employer contribution rate over the decade leading up to the Great Recession to fall to its lowest point in the program’s 75?year history.
As a result, going into the recession, state unemployment insurance funds were short of recommended minimum solvency standards by a combined $38 billion, and 30 of the 34 states not meeting that minimum standard ended up borrowing, combined with just six of 19 states that started the recession with adequate funds. Adequate unemployment insurance reserves could have reduced borrowing to 13 states borrowing $9 billion rather than what ended up happening, with 31 states borrowing $42 billion.
But while the funding shortfalls came from employers contributing less than at any point in the previous 75 years, it’s been jobless people who’ve gotten the blame and felt the pinch, with “At least ten states [passing] legislation to reduce the number of weeks of benefits available, severely restrict eligibility, or impose measures designed to discourage people from filing UI claims.” Taxpayers, too, are paying, since states have already paid $3 billion in interest and penalties on what they’ve borrowed for unemployment, with more to come.
Businesses paid less when the economy was decent (not even good for many of the years of contribution cuts). Then the bad economy hit unemployed people first when they lost their jobs, second when their benefits were cut despite ongoing high unemployment. Again and again we’re told that a bad economy is not the time to raise taxes on businesses or the wealthy—apparently it’s never the moment for that, always the moment to cut another hole in the safety net.
This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on August 3, 2012. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.
I woke up in the middle of the night physically shaking, frozen in fear about how I’d pay my bills. I had totally soaked through my sheets, so I had to climb out of my unintentional water bed.
Once I realized what was going on, I decided I would go online and do some research about Unemployment Insurance. Okay, I can hear what your thinking. Jeez, Mr. Workplace Writer, wasn’t that the first thing you would do after being let go?
Just because I write about the workplace, it doesn’t mean that I can be totally objective when confronting workplace challenges myself. Again, that’s the purpose of this blog, to give you an honest, and sometimes embarrassing, view of the process of getting knocked down at work and learning how to pick yourself back up.
I actually got excited about the idea of going to the unemployment office. As a workplace writer it would be interesting to stand in line with other people who’d been recently pummeled at work to compare notes. Okay, that last sentence is a bit twisted, but please remember the source.
I learned something remarkable during my middle of the night tour of the Employment Security website. There really is no longer any such thing as the Unemployment Office. It’s all done electronically now.
In fact, it only took me about fifteen minutes to sort out how to file my entire claim. At 3 am.
For anyone who fears the embarrassment of a room full of down and outers and being grilled by some bureaucrat, well those days are now gone. It has been replaced by a series of drop down menus and helpful phone operators. Really, every issue that I’ve come up with so far has been responded to and addressed in a matter of ten minutes or less. They even have a system where you don’t have to stay on hold, they’ll call you back when it’s your turn to talk to someone.
Okay, that last paragraph sounds like I’m trying to get hired by them to do PR for the Unemployment Insurance folks. That was not my intention. But I do want you to know that this process should not inspire fear. It’s automated, easy and only minimally damaging to your ego.
I’ve also heard from people who’ve written to me through the years that they would never stoop so low to ask for unemployment insurance. This has always befuddled me. Unemployment Insurance isn’t charity, it is a fund that you paid into while you were gainfully employed.
It’s no different than buying a gift card at a store. You are paying the cost of the card only to cash it in at a later date. That’s how I’ve always seen Unemployment Insurance.
My a-ha: Unemployment Insurance rocks, spread the word.
About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.org. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected]
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