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New unemployment claims rose by 1.9 million last week

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The coronavirus pandemic has forced roughly 42.6 million workers onto jobless rolls in just 11 weeks.

U.S. workers filed another 1.9 million new claims for unemployment benefits last week, the Department of Labor reported. The coronavirus pandemic has forced roughly 42.6 million workers onto jobless rolls in just 11 weeks. 

Another 623,000 people applied for benefits under the new temporary Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program created for people who are ineligible for traditional unemployment benefits, suggesting the number of claims filed last week could be higher than 2 million. But there is likely some overlap between the claims reported for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and normal state programs.

“Even as states reopen, claims in the millions are an indicator that the economic pain of the COVID-19 crisis is still acute,” Glassdoor Senior Economist Daniel Zhao said in reaction to the claims number.

California reported the highest number of new claims in its state unemployment program, with 230,461 filed last week. Florida followed with 206,494 new claims. 

The jobless claims figure, reported each week, comes ahead of Friday’s release of the unemployment rate for May. Economists expect that figure will show nearly one in five Americans were out of work in the middle of last month.

“The forthcoming May jobs report will amount to a shocking sequel to the April horror story,” wrote Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst for Bankrate. “It is likely to add further economic insult to the injury already established with the jobless rate. . . Millions more are expected to fall off of payrolls.”

The report also indicates that nearly 1 million workers dropped off unemployment assistance programs in the week ending May 16 (the latest data available).

The number of new weekly unemployment insuranceclaims has been slowly declining in recent weeks as states have begun to restart their economies. A recent Chamber of Commerce survey found that business fears about the pandemic have fallen in the past two months. 

Zhao noted that the weekly unemployment insurance claims may soon “understate the health of the labor market” as claims “remain elevated but hiring picks up.”

However, employers are struggling to navigate evolving rules and recommendations from the federal government around safely reopening and testing their employees for the coronavirus.

Businesses also complain that several of the aid programs created under the massive coronavirus relief package passed in March are too complicated and don’t provide enough relief to keep the economy afloat during the pandemic. 

Democrats and Republicans also have been at odds over whether to extend the enhanced unemployment benefits created under the CARES Act, the $2 trillion relief package signed into law in March. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that he is opposed to extending that additional $600 weekly unemployment payment, which is slated to end on July 31.

But, Democrats’ latest $3 trillion coronavirus relief package approved by the House last month, would extend the additional payment through the end of January. 

A majority of the Americans who have filed “continued claims,” — or those who are still seeking unemployment benefits for more than one week — have likely been receiving payments, according to Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation.

Taking a look at the seven week period from April 3 to May 23, Stettner estimated that 72.7 percent of those who filed continued claims were receiving unemployment insurance payments.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on June 4, 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.


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Reopening reality check: Georgia’s jobs aren’t flooding back

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A month after easing lockdown restrictions, the state is still seeing a steady stream of unemployment claims, economic data shows.

Georgia’s early move to start easing stay-at-home restrictions nearly a month ago has done little to stem the state’s flood of unemployment claims — illustrating how hard it is to bring jobs back while consumers are still afraid to go outside.

Weekly applications for jobless benefits have remained so elevated that Georgia now leads the country in terms of the proportion of its workforce applying for unemployment assistance. A staggering 40.3 percent of the state’s workers — two out of every five — has filed for unemployment insurance payments since the coronavirus pandemic led to widespread shutdowns in mid-March, a POLITICO review of Labor Department data shows.

Georgia’s new jobless claims have been going up and down since the state reopened, rising to 243,000 two weeks ago before dipping to 177,000 last week. The state cited new layoffs in the retail, social assistance and health care industries for the continued high rate of jobless claims that have put it ahead of other states in the proportion of its workforce that has been sidelined.

Georgia, which began pushing to resume economic activity on April 24, presents an early reality check as the White House amps up pressure on governors to lift shutdown orders and President Donald Trump’s economic advisers predict jobless claims will nosedive after the reopening. The state’s persistent unemployment numbers suggest that government restrictions aren’t the only cause of skyrocketing layoffs and furloughs — and that the economy might not fully recover until consumers feel safe.

Georgia, one of the last states to impose widespread shutdowns, has loosened restrictions on a broad array of businesses and dine-in restaurants since its stay-at-home order officially expired on April 30. Only bars, nightclubs, theaters, live music venues and amusement parks remain fully shuttered through the end of May.

Some laid-off workers have gone back to jobs since Gov. Brian Kemp first allowed gyms, bowling alleys, hair salons and other businesses to begin limited operations: The number of workers in Georgia remaining on unemployment assistance after an initial application dropped by 11 percent over the past two weeks. But others are still heading to the unemployment line for the first time. Georgia has now seen more than 2 million workers file for unemployment in nine weeks — out of the nearly 39 million who have applied for jobless benefits nationally.

Weekly new applications have gone both up and down in Georgia in the three full weeks of data released since the reopening began. They dipped slightly at first, then rose again before dropping again in the latest week, although at a slower rate than states like Louisiana and Kentucky that have seen similar levels of unemployment claims.

“It’s nothing significant enough to say, ‘Oh, there’s a huge surge,’ — but certainly nothing to signal there’s any return to economic stability or recovery happening right now,” said Alex Camardelle, a senior policy analyst with the nonprofit Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

There are many reasons Georgia’s jobless numbers are still going up, economists say, including that the state, like most of the country, is still whittling through a backlog of applications. State officials also say some laid-off workers are filing duplicate claims, which can artificially inflate the numbers. But the data still underscores how lifting stay-at-home restrictions alone will do little to bring jobs and spending back unless consumer confidence improves, bringing demand with it.

“Think of a restaurant: They’re not going to be able to bring back their entire staff because they’re just not going to have the clientele,” said Laura Wheeler, associate director of the Center for State and Local Finance at Georgia State University. “That’s going to hinder the return of the workforce, because while we’re going to open up, we’re not going to open up to the full capacity that we were at before.”

And in Georgia, public polling indicates that confidence has yet to return. Nearly two-thirds of Georgia residents in a recent Washington Post-Ipsos pollsaid they felt their state was lifting restrictions too quickly, and only 39 percent said they approved of Kemp’s handling of the outbreak.

“We’ve been chasing a bit of a false narrative that the economic hit is about the restrictions and not the disease itself,” said Julia Coronado, president and founder of Macropolicy Perspectives, an economic research consulting firm. “The economic story really isn’t about lockdowns, and we’re going to make mistakes by pursuing that narrative. It really is about the disease, and how fearful people are about getting sick, and how businesses are going to operate in a world where this virus is with us.”

At the same time, the Trump administration is pushing to get governors to reopen their doors in the hopes that doing so will help revive the U.S. economy.

Trump has amplified calls to “liberate” states and criticized governors he feels are moving too cautiously, often accusing Democratic leaders of playing politics. “You have areas of Pennsylvania that are barely affected, and they want to keep them closed,” he said during a visit to the state last week, a hit to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. “Can’t do that.”

At the same time, The White House is also closely watching state-level claims data and expects reopening to have a major effect, Kevin Hassett, a senior economic adviser to the president, said late last week. “My fear is that the places that stay closed could have sort of skyrocketing claims,” Hassett told reporters at the White House, adding: “The places that are turning on could actually see claims go way back down towards normal.”

But many economists dispute the idea that lifting restrictions will by itself mean a major boost to the labor market, in part because of evidence that layoffs accelerated in March separate from governors’ shutdown restrictions. A recent analysis by four University of California-Berkeley researchers found that the direct effect of stay-at-home orders accounted for only one-quarter of the jobless claims at the start of the crisis — suggesting that a majority of jobs that have been erased would have been lost even without statewide shutdowns.

A drop-off in consumer demand, disruptions to global supply chains and self-imposed social distancing measures all exacerbated the job losses and will likely continue to hinder the economic recovery after shutdown restrictions are removed.

POLITICO compared nine weeks of non-seasonally-adjusted initial jobless claims to Georgia’s non-adjusted residential employment from February to determine the state’s jobless claims rate of 40.3 percent, which is currently the highest in the country.

It’s too early to know exactly why Georgia leads in terms of the proportion of its workforce filing for claims, economists say, and other states may well pass it in the coming weeks as they continue to process additional applications. The state did change its criteria early on to require employers to file unemployment claims on behalf of their employees in many situations, a move that supporters say simplifies the process and allows for quicker payouts. The state also now allows workers to earn as much as $300 each week without having their unemployment eligibility affected.

Others speculated that Georgia might employ more workers in industries like hospitality and healthcare that have been deeply affected, or that many residents are employed by small businesses that have struggled to survive during the pandemic.

But no matter the reasons, experts say the data offers an early indication of why millions of jobs across the country that were erased in mere weeks could take years to return.

“Reopening is certainly not a lights-on, lights-off situation,” said Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a progressive think tank. “These are companies that have seen a shock in their demand, and at a certain point, they can’t keep their workers on.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on May 21, 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.


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Extended Emergency Unemployment Compensation Will Expire for 2.1 Million Recipients on December 29

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This morning Meteor Blades reported that Jobless benefits claims drop again, but numbers could be skewed by holiday closures of state offices, including this sad news for those whose base unemployment payments have been used up:

Come Saturday, if the president and congressional leaders do not come to agreement on fiscal matters, some 2.1 million people will lose their benefits under the federal extensions. If those extensions are not renewed in the new year, an estimated 900,000 more people will lose their benefits by April 1. Some economists say that such a cut-off combined with the end of the payroll tax cut could, by themselves, throw the nation back into recession.

Arthur Delany picks up this theme in Congress Almost Certain To Blow Unemployment Deadline, telling us even if the special House session convened by Speaker Boehner should unexpectedly pass a solution to budget crisis, it will be too late for the 2 million unemployed who are receiving exgended benefits under the  Emergency Unemployment Compensation act:

Democrats have demanded a full reauthorization of emergency benefits through next year, which would cost $30 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The current regimen of benefits provides up to 47 weeks in states with high unemployment rates, for a combined 73 weeks of state and federal compensation. Jobless workers in only nine states are eligible for the full duration.

Republicans have been quiet about the benefits, which many observers consider a sign they won’t be a deal-breaker for the GOP. President Barack Obama included unemployment compensation when he called on Congress to pass a scaled-down “fiscal cliff” bill late last week.

Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD) says:

“I’ve never seen a public as energized or as knowledgeable about an issue as they are about the fiscal cliff,” Hoyer said. “I don’t mean that they know every paragraph, sentence, and ramification of the failure to stop going over the fiscal cliff, but they know it will not be positive. They know it will have a negative impact on the economy and they know it will have a negative impact on them and their families. And they are expecting us to be here to work, and we’re not.”

One advantage of rallying public compassion and outrage to extend these benefits as a stand alone bill, on its own merits, starting in the Senate, might be that we may end up having to make less severe concessions to the intransigent House Republicans to get an extension than we’ve apparently offered to House Speaker Boehner in the rejected “grand bargain” which is reported to have included chained CPI which would have cost seniors vastly more in human suffering and start the steady compounding reduction of the value to recipients essentially forever.

I hope Senate Majority leader Harry Reid proposes a stand alone bill extending these benefits we can rally behind, as well as as many other bills combining this with $250,000 threshold tax cuts, and Medicare doctors fix.  My hope is that if we are willing to play hardball, and rally public support around each component of the “fiscal cliff” we may get through the whole situation with the least possible damage to our common good and the constituencies that depend on the Democratic Party to defend their interests.

This post was originally posted on The Daily Kos on December 27, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.


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Millions Face Bleak Winter When Jobless Aid Ends Nov. 30

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Image: Mike HallMore than 1 million long-term unemployed workers a  month will lose their unemployment benefits—the weekly check that helps keep a roof over their families’ heads and food on the table—if Congress doesn’t act by Nov. 30.

That’s the date the extended unemployment insurance (UI) benefits program expires. But Congress does not return to work until Nov. 15 and then will adjourn again for the Thanksgiving holiday, leaving just a few days when lawmakers are in town to extend the lifeline that has been so vital as unemployment continues to hover near 10 percent.

Click here to sign a petition to Congress to act quickly and extend the UI program before it expires Nov. 30.

Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP), says that in 2009 alone, UI benefits have kept 3.3 million American families— including 1.5 million children— from falling into poverty.

With the holiday season approaching, it would be especially cruel to families and bad for businesses to cut off these benefits. Any cuts would also be a drastic departure from how unemployment insurance has functioned ever since the Great Depression; Congress has never cut back on federally-funded jobless benefits when unemployment is so high.

NELP in recent days launched an online campaign—UnemployedWorkers.org—as resource to mobilize support and push Congress to act before the Nov. 30 deadline. That will be a big lift because for the past two years, Republicans have tried to block every extension of the extended UI program.  Says Owens:

Congress took seven weeks to reauthorize the extensions when benefits expired last June, and in that time, more than 2 million unemployed Americans and their families lost their jobless benefits.

Some Republicans and radio blowhards (see video) have even claimed unemployment insurance benefits—an average of just a little more than $300 a week—make jobless workers so comfortable, they won’t go out and look for work. Not that there’s much out there. Owens calls the claims “insulting and infuriating.”

In the video, Christopher J., a marketing professional out of work for more than a year, says:

There’s no such thing as pickiness when you don’t have a job. I have tried every job. I will go and apply for a maintenance position.  I have done that maintenance position when I was in college.

UnemployedWorkers.org features:

  • Fact sheets on the jobs crisis and the role of unemployment insurance in rebuilding the economy.
  • Weekly tracking of jobless claims data, national and regional unemployment news and other items related to the recovery.
  • Online actions, including a petition to Congress, call-ins and letter-writing to elected officials.
  • Workers’ stories, in blog posts and videos, and a forum for workers to contribute their own.
  • Real-time feeds on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
  • Expert advice for unemployed workers about jobless benefits.

This article was originally posted on AFL-CIO Now Blog.

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 have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.


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