Unemployment Claims Rise Above 1 Million Again, After Declining For Previous Two Weeks

(FiveNation.com)- After two weeks of declining numbers, first-time unemployment claims rose again last week.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Labor reported first-time unemployment claims totaled 1.1 million for the week ending August 14. The week before was the first week since mid-March that first-time claims dropped below 1 million, but that “celebratory mark” was short-lived.

First-time claims under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program reached 542,797 last week as well. This program was created to aid workers who were directly affected by the pandemic, as well as workers who wouldn’t normally qualify for unemployment benefits — including self-employed people and gig workers.

For the 22nd consecutive week, first-time jobless claims have totaled above the previously weekly record of 695,000 that was reached in 1982. The Labor Department says the total number of people who are receiving unemployment benefits has now reached 28 million.

The biggest jump in first-time claims came from New Jersey, which had 24,646 new applications last week. That marked an increase of more than 10,000 from the week prior. New York also saw an increase of more than 10,000 week-over-week, with 62,397 new claims last week.

Following the release of these figures, the senior fellow at think tank The Century Foundation, Andrew Stettner, said:

“It’s clear that what is keeping people unemployed is not overly generous benefits, but a lack of job openings.”

He is referring to the federal boost to benefits. Since the CARES Act was passed, the federal government was providing an extra $600 per week to all unemployed workers, on top of their state’s jobless benefits. That boost expired at the end of July.

After Democrats in Congress and White House officials failed to come to an agreement on another coronavirus-related economic stimulus package, President Donald Trump issued executive orders aimed to help Americans. One of those orders included a continued unemployment boost from the federal government, but at a $300 per-week rate.

So far, though, only 11 states have been approved for this federal funding. Many states haven’t committed to offering the federal subsidy to their unemployed workers, citing administrative concerns, legal concerns and the cost of doing it.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, for instance, said her state won’t be applying for the federal assistance.

The program isn’t as straightforward as that of the CARES Act since it’s technically not unemployment insurance. As president, Trump can’t give out new funding; he can only re-appropriate federal funds. That has complicated the process and made it not as easy for states to administer.

Many unemployed workers who are continuing to struggle are hoping Congress gets its act together and comes to agreement on another stimulus package. In addition to extended unemployment benefits, they’re hoping for help in other ways, including a possible second round of direct payments.

As Stettner said:

“Every day that passes without an extension of supplemental unemployment benefits brings greater and greater pain for tens of millions of families.”