Thursday, January 21, 2021

Unemployment claims stay high, and offer strong proof many Americans got cut off

January has been a bad month when it comes to Americans falling out of work. Today’s unemployment claims report followed that trend, with the number of new claims well above the highest levels of the Great Recession of 2007-2009.
In the week ending January 16, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 900,000, a decrease of 26,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised down by 39,000 from 965,000 to 926,000. The 4-week moving average was 848,000, an increase of 23,500 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised down by 9,750 from 834,250 to 824,500.
Bad enough that 900,000 people filed new unemployment claims last week, but the gig-economy-based PUA program also has had a rising number of applicants in each of the last 2 weeks, bouncing back above 400,000 after a quick driop around the start of the year.

The reason for that fall and rise seems to be related to the same reason that as many as 3 million Americans got cut off from unemployment benefits over the new year - delays by Congress and the Trump Administration in getting the stimulus bill signed.
More than 1.7 million people dropped off Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a program paying benefits to self-employed, gig, part-time and other workers, between Dec. 26 and Jan. 2, according to the Labor Department.

Roughly 1.1 million stopped receiving Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which offered extra aid to those who ran out of their standard allotment of state benefits.

Other programs barely picked up the slack. States offer Extended Benefits during times of high unemployment, for example. Only 83,000 people rolled into that program over the same time period. Those benefits were available in just 20 states as of Jan. 2.
And Wisconsin is not one of those states that have Extended Benefits (EB), which made the lapsing of PEUC in our state and other places all the more alarming.

As I have pointed out in the past, many Americans had already reached the time limit under PEUC before the end of the year. And while PEUC got extended for 11 more weeks in that stimulus bill, a sizable number of people still weren’t getting those benefits, or PUA benefits as 2021 began.
The drop of 3 million off unemployment rolls doesn’t include Americans who had exhausted their entitlement to aid before the official cliff. More than 2 million had run out of benefits through the PEUC program by the end of November, for example.

Many of these workers are now eligible for additional aid from the $900 billion relief law, including back pay for any missed weeks. However, some states haven’t begun issuing that assistance yet, potentially stressing Americans struggling to pay bills now.
At least as of 10 days ago, Wisconsin is also among these states where new PUA and PEUC claims haven’t restarted, but Wisconsinites did finally start getting the $300 add-on for claims that was part of that stimulus bill last week.

We'll see if the continuing PUA claims and extended unemployment claims also rise over the next couple of weeks due to re-enrollments in those programs. But December's delays in passing the short-term stimulus had a significant effect on the number of Americans getting aid as 2021 began, and the increased new claims for the first 3 weeks of January inidcates puts even more stress on an economy that is already teetering.

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