Every state in the country reported its highest initial unemployment claims ever either last week or the week before

This morning, the U.S. Department of Labor released the latest initial unemployment insurance claims data, showing another unprecedented spike. Nearly 10 million people across the country filed for unemployment insurance (UI) in the past two weeks: 3.3 million filed for unemployment in the week ending March 21, and another 6.6 million filed in the week ending March 28. For comparison, 282,000 claims were filed during the week ending March 14 when we were just starting to see the economic effects of the coronavirus. This greatly outnumbers the number of claims filed during any week since this data has been collected, including during the Great Recession.

The map in Figure A shows each state’s percentage change in “advance” initial unemployment claims for the week ending March 28 relative to the week ending March 14. Initial claims for the past week were unprecedented in virtually every state. The largest percentage increase occurred in Michigan, where the 311,000 new initial claims equaled a 5,728% increase over the number of initial claims filed in the week ending March 14. The smallest percentage increase was in Wyoming, where 4,675 new claims were filed—an 804% increase over the number of claims filed the week ending March 14, and still the largest number of claims ever filed in Wyoming. In fact, every state in the country reported its highest initial claims ever either last week or the week before.

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The Trump NLRB needs to be removed

That’s it. The Trump appointees to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) need to be removed for neglect of duty and malfeasance—now.

The latest outrage? Yesterday, the Trump board added to its long and growing list of anti-worker, anti-union actions, issuing new rules that undermine the longstanding practice of voluntary recognition, by which employers agree to recognize and bargain with a union when a majority of employees sign cards saying they want a union. The Trump board is now requiring these employers to post a notice telling workers they can file a petition and have an election to get rid of the union—the very same union that a majority of workers have just chosen. And the new rules call for running union elections and counting ballots even when charges have been filed alleging that an employer has engaged in illegal unfair labor practices that have tainted the election. In an Orwellian twist, the Trump board calls these new rules, which undermine workers’ ability to form and keep their unions, rules to “Protect Employee Free Choice.”

What makes this latest action so egregious and outrageous is that it is happening at the very same time that the Trump board had unilaterally halted all elections by workers seeking to form unions. Thousands of workers who were poised to vote on forming unions have had their elections cancelled—even though the elections could be held by U.S. mail, whose employees are courageously keeping the Postal Service going. Instead, workers are left without a voice, and the Trump NLRB has done nothing to discourage or prohibit employers from running anti-union campaigns while workers are left in the lurch.Read more

3.5 million workers likely lost their employer-provided health insurance in the past two weeks

We estimate that 3.5 million workers were at high risk of losing their employer-provided health insurance in the past two weeks. Because the United States is unique among rich countries in tying health insurance benefits to employment—roughly half of all U.S. workers receive health insurance through their own employer’s provided coverage—many of the newly unemployed will suddenly face prohibitively costly insurance options. The linkage between specific jobs and the availability of health insurance is a prime source of inefficiency and inequity in the U.S. health system. It is especially terrifying for workers to lose their health insurance as a result of, and during, an ongoing pandemic.

Background

Last week and this week saw a historically large number of workers filing initial claims for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits due to layoffs (or furloughs or hours reductions) connected to the economic impact of the coronavirus and associated “social distancing” measures. The 8.7 million new claims over the past two weeks are about 5.9% of total employment over the last year, 2.5 times as large as any previous two-week period on record.

This scale of job loss will obviously cause huge distress for the affected workers and their families. One aspect of this distress will be the likely loss of employer-provided health insurance (EPHI). Most nonelderly people in the United States who have health insurance get it through their own employer or through the employer-sponsored plan that was available to somebody in their family. When jobs are lost, this primary source of health insurance coverage is also lost.

Using new UI claims by industry from the state of Washington—the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States—we are able to provide a very rough estimate of the number of workers at high risk of losing health insurance they had through their own employer due to coronavirus-related layoffs (or furloughs or hours reductions). We can’t say exactly how many people will lose insurance coverage altogether for several reasons. For example, some workers who lose EPHI due to layoffs or hours reductions that trigger UI claims may be able to obtain coverage through health care exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or through Medicaid. Some of this group may also be able to obtain continuing coverage through COBRA, paying out of pocket the full cost of their EPHI coverage. Some workers may be able to obtain coverage through other family members, or if only experiencing a temporary furlough or hours reduction, their employers might continue to pay for coverage. On the other hand, our calculations might understate the loss of health insurance coverage because they do not account for family members who are no longer covered because of the policyholder’s layoff. And because not all layoffs result in UI claims, we will underestimate the actual magnitude of job losses.Read more

Workers exposed to the coronavirus need to be able to protect themselves from illness or death without risking their employment

Key takeaways

  • Essential frontline workers don’t have access to the equipment they need to protect themselves from the coronavirus.
  • This crisis shines a light on the lack of power most workers in this country have over conditions affecting their own safety and health.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides only limited protections to these workers.
  • Workers have sought to gain protections through multiple means—union negotiations, walkouts, social media appeals, and drawing media attention to the problems.
  • The government needs to do more to protect workers. Policies that empower workers in their workplaces and in the political and policy worlds are sorely needed.

This pandemic world is highlighting, for those who care to notice, that most workers in this country lack any power over workplace conditions affecting their own safety and health. Workers certainly do not have any effective right to refuse assignments that are dangerous, perhaps deadly. Workers, even frontline health care workers, do not have an effective right to protective equipment. This lack of freedom to protect one’s person reflects a weakness in worker power both in the workplace and in the policymaking realm.

For many, physical distancing during this pandemic has meant working at home, staring at our own laptop screens, sitting on our own couches, in our most comfortable clothes. Not everyone is so fortunate. The economy has not ground to a complete stop. Sectors such as food production, food preparation, and grocery sales are still operating, and workers in those sectors still go to their jobs. People are ordering online, which means that warehouse and delivery staff still report to work. Repair people still make house calls when our appliances break down. And, of course, the medical professions and supporting staff are still operating at full strength, although their exposure is greatest of all. How do these workers protect themselves and keep from becoming disease vectors for the rest of us?

The usual answer is personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves and masks, accompanied by hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. But none of these things are easy to come by these days. What do grocery workers do when they are required to work within a few feet of the customers they are checking out? And workers stocking shelves share narrow aisles with shoppers, including those who are themselves working for delivery services like Instacart. At a time when even health care workers are begging for masks on social media, these workers have little effective protection. Some wrap scarves around their heads, but these are more effective at keeping them from touching their faces or infecting others than in providing clinical protection. The situation is so dire that a recent piece in The Atlantic described grocery stores as “the coronavirus tipping point.”

And think about health care workers. In the last few days there have been press reports that a nurse in Los Angeles and a nurse in Washington, D.C., left their jobs at well-regarded hospitals because they were not provided with adequate protective equipment. On March 27, a doctor in Washington state—where the first U.S. coronavirus case was reported—was fired for social media posts not only complaining about his hospital’s inadequate protective practices but also trying to help secure more protective equipment for hospital workers. There is a real shortage of appropriate respiratory protection, and some staff have gone public with their concerns about the workaround methods their hospitals are using to cope with the shortage.

What else can these workers do? Do they have a legal right to refuse to work if they are afraid they are being exposed to the coronavirus without adequate protection? Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, workers have a limited right to refuse to expose themselves to “a real danger of death or serious injury,” but only if they have already sought abatement of the danger from their employer and there is not enough time to obtain an OSHA inspection. Workers have somewhat more protection if they are disciplined for complaining about inadequate protections. The Washington state doctor mentioned above probably has a strong whistleblower case. But even if he chooses to pursue it, and Washington’s OSHA State Plan takes it up, it will likely take years before he sees any relief.

Workers can expect only limited help from OSHA both because of legal and resource limits and because it is not making full use of the tools it has available. OSHA has issued guidance applicable to pandemic situations, but that guidance is not enforceable. There are some general OSHA requirements protecting workers employed during a pandemic (all workers must have access to soap and water for hand-washing, and some, including most health care workers, need more extensive PPE). There is an effort in the House to direct OSHA to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard requiring protection for health care workers, but that provision has not made it into any of the three coronavirus relief laws passed so far (the American Hospital Association has tried to block its adoption), and it does not currently apply to workers in other sectors. OSHA could also take the position that employers must provide appropriate PPE and other safeguards as part of their obligation to provide employees with a work environment “free from recognized hazards,” but preliminary indications are that OSHA is not doing so. And even if OSHA did, that would still be less effective than a standard with specific provisions.

What else can be done? As with much else, workers covered by a union contract will have greater protections. The United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW), which represents many grocery and food processing workers, is negotiating to get its members more protections, including PPE and plexiglass shields protecting cashiers from their customers in grocery stores. Other types of mutual aid activity, including walkouts by Instacart workers, and at poultry processing plants and Amazon warehouses, are also occurring. Workers who can get press attention will likely also fare better. Hospital workers have had some success appealing for PPE through Facebook and other social media platforms. Workers in other sectors could make similar appeals. Overall, however, this crisis provides one more illustration, if one were needed, of the lack of power most workers in this country have over conditions affecting their own safety and health. Workers do not have the freedom to refuse unsafe, possibly deadly assignments. Our government policies are not protecting frontline workers—a group that includes not only health care workers but also workers in other essential industries providing food, drugs, and transportation. Policies that empower workers in their workplaces and in the political and policy worlds are sorely needed.

Ann Rosenthal was the Associate Solicitor for Occupational Safety and Health at the Department of Labor until 2017.

Policymakers twice missed the chance to avert widespread job loss, now they should act to avoid more layoffs

The economic impact of the coronavirus is well upon us. Though not yet officially declared, we are certainly now in a recession. Nearly 10 million people applied for unemployment insurance claims in the last two weeks alone, and we will see much worse in coming weeks. I have been a labor market economist for a long time—including through the Great Recession—and I have never seen anything like this.

Congress just passed a bill that, while problematic in important respects, will reduce the hardship for millions of people who are out of work because of the virus. The most effective parts of the bill are a $600 increase in weekly unemployment insurance checks and the creation of a special disaster relief program that expands unemployment insurance coverage to many of those who fall through the gaping holes in our current system, including gig workers and the self-employed.

But is important to remember that mass unemployment as a result of the coronavirus did not have to happen—in fact, policymakers twice missed the chance to avert widespread job loss. First, the failure to take the coronavirus seriously early on and to implement rapid and accurate testing means we cannot now distinguish between those who are sick and need to be quarantined, and those who are healthy and could largely continue normal activity. This in turn means that to avert a much greater disaster, we have no choice but to enforce widespread lockdowns rather than more targeted quarantines. In other words, the lack of early response turned a public health threat into an economic recession, which will continue at least as long as our testing and tracing capability is insufficient.

Moreover, even after we failed to test for the virus on a sufficient scale and control its spread, we still could have protected jobs. Other countries have chosen to compensate coronavirus-impacted employers for close to the entire amount of their workers’ salaries, as long as they keep their workers on payroll. Making it possible for businesses to keep workers on payroll is crucial because at some point, hopefully sooner rather than later, the threat of the virus will be over, and the economy will be able to restart. People who have been on lockdown will be very excited to go out to restaurants and do other things they have missed out on (count me among them!). But that sudden surge in demand could go one of two ways. If employers still have their workers on payroll, they will be able to turn the lights back on and deal with the rush of customers. But if they had to lay off workers, they will need to spend great deal of resources posting jobs, interviewing, hiring, onboarding, and training. This scramble to re-match workers with jobs will prolong the pain of the recession much longer than necessary.Read more

Nearly 20 million workers will likely be laid off or furloughed by July: Updated state numbers project further job losses due to the coronavirus

As the United States comes to terms with the scale of the coronavirus pandemic, new economic projections continue to deteriorate, indicating an increasingly devastating impact on the U.S. economy. The latest Goldman Sachs forecast predicts a 9% contraction for the first quarter of this year and a 34% contraction in the second quarter. This large drop in GDP is consistent with 19.8 million jobs lost by July, bringing unemployment rates across the country into the mid-teens.

Our estimate is much larger than was predicted even a week ago, when the forecasting implied 14 million would be furloughed or laid off. Each escalating forecast is an indication that policymakers at every level of government need to be acting immediately to curb the spread of the virus and protect the health and economic well-being of their communities.

Importantly, these latest estimates account for the recently enacted CARES Act and assume a fourth coronavirus-related federal relief bill that will ramp up state aid—a particularly effective form of stimulus. In other words, Congress must pass additional stimulus measures—especially aid to state and local governments—just to keep the losses where we are predicting them to be today. Policymakers could go one step further and use public debt to finance the wages of workers who would otherwise lose their jobs, as Britain and Denmark are doing. This would allow workers to keep their jobs, even if they are unable to work from home or their employer is closed. It would also allow some workers to save money that they could spend once the pandemic has subsided, which would help jump-start the recovery.

In the map and tables below, we have updated our estimates of predicted layoffs and furloughs by state and added a projection of the resulting unemployment rates in each state. The map in Figure A shows that California is expected to have the largest number of jobs lost, with the state losing nearly 2.3 million jobs through June. Texas, Florida, and New York have the next largest job loss numbers at 1.7 million, 1.3 million, and 1.2 million jobs lost, respectively—losses representing between 14.7 and 17.0% of total private-sector employment in these states.

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Which data to watch and not watch this week: Watch Thursday’s unemployment insurance claims, not Friday’s jobs day numbers

It’s not often that you’ll hear us telling you not to pay attention to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s monthly employment situation report that is released on the first Friday of every month. We usually elevate these “jobs day” numbers because they are the timeliest data on payroll employment, the unemployment rate, the share of the population with a job, and wage growth. But this week, the numbers coming out on Friday will be genuinely outdated, if we want a true look at how the coronavirus has affected the economy. Therefore, this week we recommend you focus on the unemployment insurance (UI) claims data that will be released on Thursday morning, which will provide a much more up-to-date read on the state of the labor market.

Why? It’s all about the different reference periods for these two data releases. The reference period for Thursday’s initial UI numbers is last week (March 22–28). That means these numbers capture key information about layoffs in almost real time. The reference period for Friday’s jobs day report, on the other hand, is mid-month—specifically, it’s the payroll period that includes March 12 for the establishment survey and the calendar week that includes March 12 for the household survey. Even though mid-March was just a couple weeks ago, things deteriorated so fast in the last half of March that a mid-month measure will not come close to capturing the current state of the labor market.

The Friday jobs numbers will likely, however, reflect the leading edge of the downturn. We already know from the unemployment insurance claims data that there was a significant uptick in initial unemployment insurance claims for the week ending March 14, which includes the relevant reference period for this Friday’s report. UI claims rose from 211,000 in the week ending March 7 to 282,000 in the week ending March 14. However, initial claims skyrocketed in the week ending March 21 to 3.3 million, by far the highest level in the history of the series, and is expected to have risen even higher last week. Friday’s jobs report will decidedly not include this huge increase in job losses in the last half of the month. Therefore, the measures reported on Friday will be nothing more than the tip of the iceberg for the pandemic-induced recession we are in now. Thursday’s UI data from March 22–28th, on the other hand, will provide a much clearer read on what workers are up against.Read more

Unions are giving workers a seat at the table when it comes to the coronavirus response

We have never seen such immediate and sweeping changes at so many workplaces in modern history. What are unions doing to ensure that workers have a seat at the table?

EPI reports and blog posts have documented the ways that workers through their unions solve problems and make changes that improve their lives and their communities. This includes ensuring broader access to paid sick leave and health insurance, two issues of particular importance in the current pandemic. This blog post, culled from public news sources, summarizes just a few ways unionized workers are using their bargaining rights to have a say in how they are going to safely and effectively do their jobs during the pandemic. We encourage readers to share their stories to add to these examples.

  • Teamsters have negotiated an agreement with UPS providing paid leave, and are pressing UPS for extra protections. The Teamsters’ UPS and UPS Freight National Negotiating Committees and UPS reached an agreement that provides for paid leave for any worker who is diagnosed with COVID-19 or quarantined because a family member in their household is ill with the virus. According to Transport Topics, “the paid-leave agreement applies to about 300,000 full- and part-time hourly employees, primarily drivers, package handlers and mechanics, if they should become directly impacted by the novel coronavirus.” The leave pay includes pension contributions. Workers who use paid time off to self-quarantine and are later diagnosed with COVID-19 can get that time back in their leave bank.

    UPS is also implementing other protective measures, such as altering delivery requirements to minimize direct contact with customers, specifically by not requiring signatures from customers. Efforts to keep workers safe are ongoing. For example, the president of a local Teamsters chapter in Boston is insisting that UPS step up its cleaning of trucks and equipment  These protections are especially important, as UPS union members will reportedly be delivering and picking up test kits and supplies for COVID-19 drive-through testing sites.
  • Teamsters have secured job security commitments from Waste Management. The Teamsters Waste and Recycling Division represents more than 32,000 workers in the private sanitation industry. The division sent a letter to the three largest companies in the industry—Waste Management, Republic Services, and Waste Connections—asking the companies to outline what they are doing to ensure the safety and health of sanitation workers and requesting specific changes to attendance and paid-time-off policies. Subsequent communications with Waste Management have secured proposals for job security, guaranteed pay, and excused absences for workers.
  • The United Auto Workers (UAW) is negotiating plant operations with Ford, GM, and Fiat Chrysler, including plans to make face shields and ventilators. The UAW represent about 150,000 auto workers at General Motors, Ford, and Fiat-Chrysler. In mid-March, UAW officials urged the companies to shut down their factories for two weeks to protect autoworkers from the spreading coronavirus. The request followed union members’ concerns that continued work at the plants would expose them to the virus (a worker at a Fiat Chrysler transmission plant in Kokomo, Indiana, tested positive for COVID-19) and was made the day before UAW members at a Fiat Chrysler factory in Warren, Michigan, went on strike to protest the unsafe working conditions caused by working in close quarters. Initially the companies agreed only to creating a joint task force with the union to implement protection measures for workers and cutting shifts so that factories would be cleared of workers on a rotating basis for deep cleaning of the facility and equipment. But shortly after that agreement was announced, the automakers announced plans to halt production at plants across North America.The UAW and the automakers also said they would work together on plans to restart the plants when it is safe to do so, according to a statement from Ford.
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    Meanwhile, Ford and the UAW announced that they will start assembling plastic face shields —clear plastic shields that can be used to protect health care workers and others who deal with the public from virus-containing droplets—at a Ford manufacturing site, and start making ventilators at another Ford plant. As Reuters reports, Ford officials say the safety procedures followed to keep workers safe as they produce the ventilators “will be adapted from work Ford and the UAW have been doing to prepare for the automaker to reopen other U.S. factories.” These efforts are part of a recently announced entree by the automakers into production of ventilators, face masks, and face shields for health care workers and first responders.
  • Communications Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) have won paid leave for Verizon workers. According to Labor Notes, “the unions representing 34,000 workers at Verizon have negotiated paid leave for union members who can’t work during the COVID-19 outbreak.” Telephone workers, like many health care workers and grocery workers, are considered essential workers and thus must stay on the job. The agreement between the unions and Verizon specifies that workers will get paid leave if they are diagnosed with COVID-19, are directed by a doctor to stay at home due to underlying health conditions that make them vulnerable, have to care for a child whose school or day care has been closed due to the pandemic, or have to care for a person in their family who has been diagnosed with COVID-19. Labor Notes quoted a statement from Teamsters for a Democratic Union: “The paid leave won by the union at Verizon surpasses anything even raised by our International Union for Teamsters working in parcel, trucking, grocery, food, beverage, waste, and other essential frontline services that put workers at risk.”
  • Service Employees International Union United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) has secured masks for health care workers. SEIU UHW represents more than 97,000 front-line health care workers in hospitals, clinics, and other facilities in California as well as patients and health care consumers. After hearing from members about the lack of protective equipment, the union found a supplier and secured 39 million of the N95 masks, according to the Bay area NBC affiliate. The masks will be distributed to state and local governments and health care systems. Union officials also said they found suppliers of protective masks and face shields.

A broader seat at the table for all workers

Not only are unions helping workers at individual workplaces, they are also seeking a broader seat at the table for all workers.

For example, the International Trade Union Confederation, which represents 200 million members of 332 affiliates in 163 countries and territories, joined with the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to send a letter to G20 leaders. They called for coordinated action through International Labor Organization, World Health Organization, OECD, International Monetary Fund, and World Bank to “protect the health of all people and the incomes and jobs of all working people as the key to stability of business and the real economy.”

The letters calls for urgent investment in public health and measures to support all workers regardless of their employment status, including those in the informal economy, including paid sick leave from day one; wage/income protection; managed reduction of hours where necessary, with government support to maximize income security; mortgage, rent and loan relief; universal social protection and free access to healthcare; and, child care support for frontline workers working in health care, supermarkets, pharmacies and other vital areas.

Keep the vital stories coming

Stories keep coming in of ways union workers are demanding protections and winning health and safety protections. In her recent blog post on the very ill-timed and harmful rulemakings affecting union organizing, my colleague Celine McNicholas notes how “grocery unions have won personal protective equipment, paid sick time, and hazard pay for their members.” That is the kind of seat at the table that is so crucial—at all times, but especially now.

Please keep these important stories coming. If you have examples of unions winning critical provisions to help their members stay safe and navigate workplace changes during this crisis, please email me at lengdahl@epi.org.

 

Nine in 10 farmworkers could be covered by the paid leave provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act—but not if smaller employers are exempted

Key takeaways:

  • Starting on April 1, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) will require employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide paid sick days and paid family and medical leave for workers if they have been impacted by the coronavirus, but the law includes a possible exemption for smaller employers with fewer than 50 employees.
  • The U.S. Department of Labor is currently developing regulations to implement the FFCRA and they are expected sometime in early April. The agency is likely to include guidelines regarding the small business exemption for paid leave, which will have an impact on how many farmworkers are eligible.
  • Data show that nearly all farms in the United States have fewer than 500 employees (99.8%); nine out of every ten farmworkers (88.3%) are employed on those farms and would be covered by the FFCRA’s new paid leave provisions.
  • However, most farms are smaller and employ fewer than 50 employees (96.6% of all farms). If all farms with fewer than 50 employees are exempted under the small business exemption in the FFCRA, just over one-third of farmworkers (36.2%) would be eligible for paid leave—those employed by farms with 50-499 employees.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), the second of the three coronavirus stimulus packages passed by Congress in response to the ongoing pandemic, was enacted on March 18, 2020. During the period beginning on April 1 and ending on December 31, 2020, the FFCRA will require employers with fewer than 500 employees—but with a possible exemption for smaller businesses with fewer than 50 employees—to provide paid sick days and paid family and medical leave for workers if they have been impacted by the coronavirus.

The farmworkers who grow, pick, and pack the food that ends up on our grocery store shelves have been deemed essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic, but are vulnerable and need additional health and safety measures in place to protect them from being infected by, and spreading, the coronavirus. One major agribusiness lobby has publicly stated that farm employers “would be losing way too much money” if basic safety measures were implemented, while some major producers report they’re putting new safety measures in place. The current reality for farmworkers is that most lack paid sick days and paid family and medical leave—but if they qualify, the FFCRA could offer them a lifeline.

There are no reliable estimates of how many farmworkers may be eligible for the FFCRA’s emergency paid leave benefits, but our review of the available data sources suggests that almost all farmworkers could be eligible. However, if smaller farm employers are exempted, just over one-third of farmworkers would be eligible.Read more

In midst of a pandemic, Trump’s NLRB makes it nearly impossible for workers to organize a union

Today, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a rule making it harder for workers to win and keep a union. At the same time, the Trump NLRB has suspended all union elections, including mail ballot elections. The decision to finalize this rulemaking at a time when the agency is failing to fulfill its most basic statutory obligation—to enable workers to organize—is a disgrace. Congress must hold the agency accountable for this decision.

This is a moment when more and more workers are voicing concerns over the terms and conditions of their work as the entire country grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic. Workers are being forced to work without adequate protective gear or sick leave if they or their family members get sick. As a result, workers at places like Amazon, Instacart, and Whole Foods are walking off the job to demand stronger protections, and many are seeking to form unions.

Unions play a critical role in winning workers health and safety protections, as well as fair wages and benefits. In fact, unions have a long history of developing training related to infectious disease and providing workplace protections, in many cases through strong safety and health committees set up to assist when issues like the coronavirus crisis emerge. Notably, a nurses’ union recently located 39 million N95 masks, after their employer failed to provide them, and grocery unions have won personal protective equipment, paid sick time, and hazard pay for their members. Further, unions promote worker safety by investing in programs to educate workers about on-the-job hazards and working with employers to reduce worker injuries and the time lost due to injury.

At a time when many workers deemed “essential” during the COVID-19 pandemic are navigating issues of health and safety, and looking for ways to have their voices heard, it is unconscionable that the agency responsible for ensuring workers have the right to a voice in the workplace has denied them the ability to exercise these rights. By suspending all union elections, the Trump board is betraying its responsibility to our nation’s workers when they most need these basic rights. But today’s rulemaking makes clear that the agency will find a way to conduct the business it deems important—namely, making it more difficult for workers to unionize.Read more

Older workers can’t work from home and are at a higher risk for COVID-19

Key takeaways

  • Nearly three-fourths of workers age 65 and older—or over 5 million older workers—are unable to telecommute. That means that these workers, who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 because of their age, could be putting themselves at risk to earn a paycheck.
  • Policymakers can mitigate the damage from workplace exposure to the coronavirus afflicting older and other highly vulnerable people by designing unemployment insurance and paid sick days measures to protect workers who are vulnerable themselves or who have vulnerable family members.
  • Specifically, policymakers should extend paid sick leave to all employers, to at-risk workers, and to workers whose family members are at risk. They should also ensure that older workers who have to quit their job or lose pay due to the risks of COVID-19 are among the newly eligible for unemployment insurance under the new $2.2 trillion coronavirus package.

As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the United States, more and more workers who are on the front lines of the economy are at risk, but little attention has been paid to the impact on older workers, who are among the most vulnerable.

Because testing is far from universal, official reports are likely to understate the extent of the pandemic, but it’s clear that older adults are at higher risk for severe illness. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that eight out of 10 deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. have been adults ages 65 years old and older, and significant shares of older Americans require hospitalization and admission to intensive care units.

At the same time, over 5 million workers age 65 years old and older in the pre-pandemic economy could not work from home. Although some of these workers are likely to be the ones who have been laid off or furloughed in recent days, many will remain out in the workforce, going to work, risking their own health and the health of their family members. And many more workers—younger than age 65—will continue going to work and potentially risking the health of their family members who are older and/or have other health conditions that make them more vulnerable.

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Exposed and underpaid: Women still make less than men, including in sectors especially affected by the coronavirus

  • Women are paid 22.6% less than men with similar education and experience.
  • Women doctors are paid 12% less than doctors who are men.
  • Women nurses are paid 8% less than nurses who are men.
  • Women who wait tables in restaurants are paid 12% less than male wait staff.
  • Women desk clerks at hotels and resorts are paid 11% less than male desk clerks.

Equal Pay Day arrives in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and in occupations radically transformed as we deal with the crisis, women still make less than men.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one-third of working women (33.4%), compared with just 15.7% of working men, are employed in two industries that have been significantly impacted by COVID-19 in very different ways: the health care and social assistance industry, which is experiencing surging demand, and the leisure and hospitality industry, which is being crushed by closures. Women employed in both industries experience a gender wage gap.

Given this harsh reality, Equal Pay Day on March 31 is a day to call attention to the significant pay gap between men and women in our country. On average in 2019, women were paid 22.6% less than men, after controlling for race and ethnicity, education, age, and geographic division. The gaps for black and Hispanic women relative to white men are larger than the overall gap and the white men–white women gap. Compared with white men, black and Hispanic women are paid 33.7% and 33.0% less, respectively, after controlling for age, education, and geographic division. For white women, the gap is 25.7%.

The timing of these events also coincides with March, Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on the often overlooked contributions women have made to the United States. At this historic moment, both the essential contributions as well as the economic vulnerabilities of working women have taken center stage.

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EPI President Thea Lee tells MSNBC’s Velshi the coronavirus shines a light on economic inequality in the United States

“This crisis has laid bare the underlying inequality in the U.S. economy,” said EPI President Thea Lee Friday on MSNBC’s The Last Word hosted by Ali Velshi. Because of these inequities, she added, “we were ill-prepared for this crisis.”

Now, she stressed, we need universal paid sick leave, a health care system that doesn’t bankrupt people, and a stronger unemployment insurance system to “make sure we aren’t as ill-prepared for the next crisis.”

 

 

 

With smart policy, a temporary collapse in GDP doesn’t have to cause great human suffering

The “social distancing” measures needed to slow the spread of the coronavirus clearly reduce economic activity. A growing meme in recent days argues that this reduction might be so damaging that it would be a societal benefit to end the social distancing measures shortly and try to return to normal economic activity.

This is extraordinarily risky from a public health perspective—the potential deaths caused by a premature end to social distancing measures—without exaggeration—could reach the millions.

Further, a scenario that saw this many deaths would also see tens of millions of workers falling so ill they would be unable to work for extended periods. This would cause an economic shock of its own.

Finally, and most fundamentally, this view that terrible (but generally unspecified) economic damage will inevitably occur due to the recent public health measures undertaken represents a profound misunderstanding of how the economy works, and how smart policy measures can neutralize this type of trade-off.

To see why, consider a quick thought experiment.Read more

The CARES Act’s aid to state and local governments isn’t enough to shield vital public services from the coronavirus shock: Lessons from the Great Recession tell us why

Key takeaways

  • The CARES Act is a good first step, but Congress needs to further bolster state and local government aid to curb potential draconian measures to deal with budget fallouts.
  • The Great Recession’s lessons show that aid shortfalls then led to slashed state and local budgets, severely hampering the economic recovery.
  • Subsequent relief and recovery bills should include increased federal Medicaid matching funds, shown to have the greatest bang for the buck as economic stimulus.

The recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act is an important step in the right direction toward providing economic relief during the coronavirus pandemic, but it contains some serious flaws, including inadequate aid to state and local governments.

The aid is both too stingy and too restrictive, providing insufficient relief to hold state and local budgets harmless against the effects of the crisis and forcing them to jump through bureaucratic hoops even to get this insufficient amount.

The lessons of the Great Recession tell us that this aid shortfall could carry serious economic ramifications.

Unlike the federal government, state and local governments must largely balance their budgets. This means that when revenues fall off a cliff because of lower incomes and spending during this economic crisis, state and local governments will face serious fiscal constraints, often leading to budget cuts that further depress demand in the economy. During the Great Recession, such budget cuts severely hampered the economic recovery.

The economic recovery also taught us what works: additional federal Medicaid matching funds. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009’s enhanced federal Medicaid matching funds helped to alleviate the budget constraints that state and local governments faced. Research has since shown that these increased federal funds stood out as providing some of the greatest bang for the buck as economic stimulus.Read more

Early state unemployment insurance data foreshadow the massive shock the coronavirus is having on state labor markets: The real surge will be seen in next week’s data

The data released yesterday by the Department of Labor showed there was a breathtaking increase in the number of people filing for unemployment insurance (UI) during the week ending in March 21, 2020. Initial UI claims skyrocketed to 3.3 million last week—a nearly 1,500% increase over three weeks ago, when 211,000 initial claims were filed.

The comparable state-level data on UI claims is released one week later than the national data, so the most recent information available at the state-level is for two weeks ago—the week ending March 14. While this does not capture the staggering spike in claims that we saw last week, the early effects of coronavirus are already apparent in many states. Figure A displays the percent change in unemployment insurance claims from the prior week.

UI is a critical tool for ensuring that those who are out of work or have seen their hours reduced are still able to make ends meet. The CARES Act, which Congress is currently debating, would adapt UI to meet the needs of the current crisis by expanding who is eligible (gig workers and the self-employed are usually excluded), giving an additional $600 in weekly benefits, and reducing burdensome waiting period, job search, and earnings requirements. Still, UI is just one of many policy levers that should be used to support workers throughout this crisis. Policymakers in every state should work to ensure that they are protecting public health while reducing economic harm to workers.Read more

Without fast action from Congress, low-wage workers will be ineligible for unemployment benefits during the coronavirus crisis

Key takeaways

  • Without immediate action from Congress, large numbers of low-wage workers won’t be eligible to get unemployment checks.
  • Many workers don’t make enough money to qualify for unemployment because they work low hours or are in low-paying jobs (e.g., fast-food workers or retail clerks).
  • Federal and state legislators can act to protect these most vulnerable workers.
  • The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act—which has passed the Senate by unanimous consent and is moving to the House today—is a good first step to fill the hole low-wage workers fall into during this crisis.
  • The CARES Act expands eligibility to workers who typically have been unable to get unemployment benefits, such as those who are self-employed, are seeking part-time work, or do not have sufficient work history to qualify for unemployment insurance.

About 3 million workers filed unemployment claims last week, and 14 million workers are expected to be out of work by June. Large numbers of those who lose their jobs will be low-wage workers, and unfortunately many will be ineligible for unemployment compensation under current overly restrictive eligibility rules.

Federal and state legislators, however, have the power to act and come to the aid of these vulnerable workers. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act—which has passed the Senate by unanimous consent and is moving to the House today—has notable limitations, but would greatly expand eligibility for unemployment insurance.

The expansion is necessary and important because unemployment benefits are generally limited to those who had high enough earnings when they were working. But low-wage workers experience higher rates of joblessness, lowering their baseline earnings and making them less eligible to collect UI benefits.

Figure A shows that unemployment rates are substantially higher for low-wage workers, defined as those workers who earn less than their state’s 30th percentile wage.

During the Great Recession, nearly one out of five workers who had earned low wages also experienced some unemployment. In contrast, unemployment rates were only about half as high for the rest of the workforce who earned more than their state’s 30th percentile wage. Given the toll on the service industry during the current pandemic, we should expect unemployment to skyrocket for low-wage workers.Read more

The coronavirus pandemic highlights that Americans need more options to vote

The coronavirus outbreak has caused 10 U.S. states and territories to postpone their 2020 primary elections in order to reduce the spread of the virus by protecting voters and poll workers—a majority of whom are age 61 and older and face the greatest risk from the virus. These postponements demonstrate the urgent need for safe, alternative voting methods to safeguard democracy amid a pandemic, especially before November’s general election.

One promising method is a vote-by-mail system. Five states—Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Utah—already conduct their elections through mail. Several voting rights groups have expressed support for a vote-by-mail system for the remaining primaries and the general election. And the U.S. House of Representative’s latest coronavirus response bill proposes a national requirement of 15 days of early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, and mailing ballots to all registered voters during an emergency.

We should also consider a radical change to our voting options: online voting. While online voting may seem farfetched, it has already been successfully implemented in some U.S. elections. For example, earlier this year, the Greater Seattle area held the first election in U.S. history where all voters could cast a ballot by smartphone, while West Virginia has allowed voters living overseas to vote using a mobile app. Given that 81% of Americans own smartphones, studies show that online voting could dramatically increase voter turnout. Imagine the kinds of policies lawmakers could enact, that would represent the views of all Americans, if we had higher voter turnout due to more voting options. Think about how many primaries could continue as scheduled this year if Americans were given all options to vote.

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Despite some good provisions, the CARES Act has glaring flaws and falls short of fully protecting workers during the coronavirus crisis

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act is an important step in the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic. It includes provisions for expanded unemployment insurance ($250 billion), aid to small businesses ($350 billion), cash payments to households ($300 billion), aid to states ($150 billion), emergency funding for health care supplies and investments ($100 billion), and money for industry bailouts ($450 billion). The total package will provide more than $2 trillion in funds.

There is much to like in this package, and timely relief is critical. But it also contains many flaws, largely left over from the first proposal forwarded by Senate Republicans. Because many of the weaknesses of this first proposal remain, the package will not be up to the job of fully protecting U.S. workers and their families from the economic consequences of the coronavirus shock, and it will not allow the economy to reboot quickly enough once the public health crisis ends. Further help from policymakers will clearly be needed.

When we estimated that a relief and recovery package needed to be at least $2.1 trillion just through the end of 2020, we noted that this was the number for a package that was well-targeted and would reliably deliver the vast majority of benefits to workers and their families. The CARES Act does not do that. Even though it includes more than $2 trillion in funding, key design failures mean the legislation will not be large enough to provide the necessary economic relief and recovery. The economy will continue to operate significantly below potential through the end of the year, even in optimistic scenarios where the shock caused by social distancing measures is relatively short.

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States are projected to lose more jobs due to the coronavirus: 14 million jobs could be lost by summer

Last week, we published a map showing the job losses in each state likely to occur over the coming months as businesses shutter in response to the social distancing measures necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19. Sadly, our predictions were likely too optimistic. Expectations of how many jobs will ultimately be lost are rapidly evolving, with new forecasts from different macroeconomic analysts being released on an almost daily basis. As new data and projections become available, EPI is updating our estimates of the number of jobs nationally, and by state, that the economy is likely to lose in the coming months.

Our best guess at this point is that the national economy could lose 14 million jobs by summer 2020. These estimates assume $1 trillion in fiscal stimulus—in other words, even with $1 trillion in stimulus, the job losses will be enormous. EPI estimates we will need at least $2.1 trillion in federal stimulus through 2020 to restore the country to reasonable economic health. Congress is debating an economic stimulus package around $2 trillion, and if it is targeted enough, it could help mitigate some of these losses. Yet even with these measures, many people will still need to remain out of work, potentially for months, in order to stop the virus’s spread. In addition to federal action, lawmakers at the state and local levels must do everything they can to ensure that these workers and their families do not suffer economically during this time.

As with our previous post, the map in Figure A shows how the projected 14 million jobs lost nationally are likely to be distributed across the states. The national job losses are distributed in proportion to the average of each state’s share of total national private-sector employment and each state’s share of national retail, leisure, and hospitality employment. We give added weight to these sectors as they are likely to be disproportionately affected by the social distancing measures that are needed to slow this pandemic. States like Nevada, Montana, and Hawaii are projected to lose the highest percentage of their employment because a large amount of their workforce is employed in the leisure, hospitality, and retail sectors.Read more

Southern state policymakers must do more to respond to the coronavirus pandemic: Medicaid expansion, emergency paid sick leave, and dedicated public health resources are especially needed

This piece is the first in a three-part series examining the economic and social conditions that impact health outcomes in Southern states, and how these conditions leave communities underprepared to protect frontline workers and communities during the pandemic.

U.S. federal lawmakers are poised to pass a stimulus package to combat the coronavirus pandemic’s public health and economic damage. In a recent post, we laid out the critical steps that state and local lawmakers should take to protect workers and families, slow the spread of the virus, and mitigate its economic toll. This piece will highlight how state and local policymakers in the Southern states are responding to the crisis, and what more is needed.

Health organizations broadly recognize that where we live and work impacts health risks and health outcomes. By recognizing the economic and social conditions that influence health equity for people living in Southern states, policymakers can provide more targeted solutions to protect public health and support families already struggling to make ends meet.

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Nurses in garbage bags?: Why the Trump administration must use the Defense Production Act to mobilize production of critically needed hospital protective equipment immediately

On Tuesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo spent much of his coronavirus press conference imploring President Trump to use the Defense Production Act (DPA) now to force factories to manufacture essential medical equipment such as masks, gloves, gowns, and ventilators.

Trump has continually refused to do so, saying that the acquisition of medical supplies is a job for governors: “You know, we’re not a shipping clerk.” Yet, on a conference call last week, Republican governor Charlie Baker (Mass.) told Trump that his state had been denied three major orders for medical equipment because the federal government had outbid him.

Health care workers are at the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis. In Italy, 9% of “total COVID-19 cases are health care workers, contributing to the breakdown of the hospital system in the north of the country.” U.S. health care workers are also especially hard hit.

While both Democratic and Republican governors are pleading for help, staff in at least one nursing home have already resorted to using plastic garbage bags to make gowns, as have nurses and doctors in Spain and England.

Clearly, the DPA will make a difference.Read more

The coronavirus crisis led to a record-breaking spike in weekly unemployment insurance claims: An estimated 3.4 million workers filed for unemployment last week

A greater share of Americans filed for unemployment insurance in the week ending March 21 than in any prior week in American history, according to our analysis of news reports.

Many states reported initial claims growth of over 1,000%. Our model predicts that 3.4 million Americans filed new claims for unemployment insurance this past week, although we believe that number could be as low as 3 million or could be substantially higher. This will dwarf every other week in history, as can be seen by comparing the projection against the trend in initial claims back to 1967 (Figure A).

Figure A

The U.S. is experiencing a record-breaking spike in unemployment: Initial weekly unemployment claims since 1967 and projected claims for the week ending March 21, 2020

Week ending date Initial claims, seasonally adjusted Projected claims, week ending March 21, 2020  
1967-01-07 208000
1967-01-14 207000
1967-01-21 217000
1967-01-28 204000
1967-02-04 216000
1967-02-11 229000
1967-02-18 229000
1967-02-25 242000
1967-03-04 310000
1967-03-11 241000
1967-03-18 245000
1967-03-25 247000
1967-04-01 259000
1967-04-08 257000
1967-04-15 299000
1967-04-22 245000
1967-04-29 255000
1967-05-06 254000
1967-05-13 231000
1967-05-20 230000
1967-05-27 228000
1967-06-03 248000
1967-06-10 238000
1967-06-17 224000
1967-06-24 218000
1967-07-01 209000
1967-07-08 240000
1967-07-15 241000
1967-07-22 240000
1967-07-29 209000
1967-08-05 221000
1967-08-12 202000
1967-08-19 215000
1967-08-26 213000
1967-09-02 218000
1967-09-09 231000
1967-09-16 220000
1967-09-23 209000
1967-09-30 204000
1967-10-07 231000
1967-10-14 206000
1967-10-21 223000
1967-10-28 207000
1967-11-04 222000
1967-11-11 214000
1967-11-18 198000
1967-11-25 191000
1967-12-02 196000
1967-12-09 221000
1967-12-16 204000
1967-12-23 219000
1967-12-30 216000
1968-01-06 222000
1968-01-13 222000
1968-01-20 221000
1968-01-27 198000
1968-02-03 244000
1968-02-10 210000
1968-02-17 196000
1968-02-24 193000
1968-03-02 190000
1968-03-09 204000
1968-03-16 190000
1968-03-23 200000
1968-03-30 192000
1968-04-06 191000
1968-04-13 171000
1968-04-20 183000
1968-04-27 251000
1968-05-04 209000
1968-05-11 194000
1968-05-18 199000
1968-05-25 194000
1968-06-01 199000
1968-06-08 192000
1968-06-15 194000
1968-06-22 189000
1968-06-29 194000
1968-07-06 214000
1968-07-13 186000
1968-07-20 180000
1968-07-27 205000
1968-08-03 206000
1968-08-10 218000
1968-08-17 192000
1968-08-24 193000
1968-08-31 188000
1968-09-07 189000
1968-09-14 195000
1968-09-21 191000
1968-09-28 189000
1968-10-05 185000
1968-10-12 186000
1968-10-19 191000
1968-10-26 182000
1968-11-02 181000
1968-11-09 183000
1968-11-16 192000
1968-11-23 199000
1968-11-30 162000
1968-12-07 188000
1968-12-14 195000
1968-12-21 192000
1968-12-28 223000
1969-01-04 190000
1969-01-11 191000
1969-01-18 192000
1969-01-25 193000
1969-02-01 203000
1969-02-08 197000
1969-02-15 192000
1969-02-22 192000
1969-03-01 201000
1969-03-08 191000
1969-03-15 189000
1969-03-22 181000
1969-03-29 183000
1969-04-05 182000
1969-04-12 190000
1969-04-19 187000
1969-04-26 177000
1969-05-03 177000
1969-05-10 183000
1969-05-17 179000
1969-05-24 180000
1969-05-31 187000
1969-06-07 192000
1969-06-14 182000
1969-06-21 191000
1969-06-28 203000
1969-07-05 227000
1969-07-12 210000
1969-07-19 206000
1969-07-26 192000
1969-08-02 196000
1969-08-09 203000
1969-08-16 199000
1969-08-23 199000
1969-08-30 195000
1969-09-06 182000
1969-09-13 209000
1969-09-20 195000
1969-09-27 193000
1969-10-04 193000
1969-10-11 200000
1969-10-18 199000
1969-10-25 205000
1969-11-01 198000
1969-11-08 211000
1969-11-15 197000
1969-11-22 217000
1969-11-29 202000
1969-12-06 202000
1969-12-13 222000
1969-12-20 232000
1969-12-27 223000
1970-01-03 230000
1970-01-10 242000
1970-01-17 268000
1970-01-24 256000
1970-01-31 239000
1970-02-07 256000
1970-02-14 265000
1970-02-21 271000
1970-02-28 242000
1970-03-07 262000
1970-03-14 271000
1970-03-21 264000
1970-03-28 276000
1970-04-04 273000
1970-04-11 305000
1970-04-18 374000
1970-04-25 349000
1970-05-02 334000
1970-05-09 318000
1970-05-16 303000
1970-05-23 296000
1970-05-30 301000
1970-06-06 301000
1970-06-13 298000
1970-06-20 296000
1970-06-27 291000
1970-07-04 277000
1970-07-11 288000
1970-07-18 294000
1970-07-25 287000
1970-08-01 261000
1970-08-08 266000
1970-08-15 300000
1970-08-22 303000
1970-08-29 297000
1970-09-05 324000
1970-09-12 292000
1970-09-19 325000
1970-09-26 333000
1970-10-03 350000
1970-10-10 327000
1970-10-17 334000
1970-10-24 330000
1970-10-31 327000
1970-11-07 336000
1970-11-14 314000
1970-11-21 314000
1970-11-28 337000
1970-12-05 308000
1970-12-12 306000
1970-12-19 289000
1970-12-26 321000
1971-01-02 303000
1971-01-09 288000
1971-01-16 299000
1971-01-23 312000
1971-01-30 292000
1971-02-06 296000
1971-02-13 282000
1971-02-20 268000
1971-02-27 290000
1971-03-06 297000
1971-03-13 287000
1971-03-20 291000
1971-03-27 300000
1971-04-03 299000
1971-04-10 279000
1971-04-17 284000
1971-04-24 288000
1971-05-01 290000
1971-05-08 293000
1971-05-15 284000
1971-05-22 295000
1971-05-29 299000
1971-06-05 301000
1971-06-12 295000
1971-06-19 299000
1971-06-26 291000
1971-07-03 277000
1971-07-10 264000
1971-07-17 313000
1971-07-24 304000
1971-07-31 308000
1971-08-07 349000
1971-08-14 325000
1971-08-21 320000
1971-08-28 307000
1971-09-04 359000
1971-09-11 312000
1971-09-18 302000
1971-09-25 308000
1971-10-02 299000
1971-10-09 313000
1971-10-16 299000
1971-10-23 294000
1971-10-30 283000
1971-11-06 301000
1971-11-13 295000
1971-11-20 274000
1971-11-27 278000
1971-12-04 299000
1971-12-11 280000
1971-12-18 269000
1971-12-25 244000
1972-01-01 279000
1972-01-08 295000
1972-01-15 250000
1972-01-22 263000
1972-01-29 269000
1972-02-05 276000
1972-02-12 266000
1972-02-19 258000
1972-02-26 254000
1972-03-04 257000
1972-03-11 264000
1972-03-18 266000
1972-03-25 264000
1972-04-01 258000
1972-04-08 274000
1972-04-15 259000
1972-04-22 259000
1972-04-29 265000
1972-05-06 271000
1972-05-13 266000
1972-05-20 267000
1972-05-27 267000
1972-06-03 264000
1972-06-10 268000
1972-06-17 275000
1972-06-24 286000
1972-07-01 350000
1972-07-08 297000
1972-07-15 318000
1972-07-22 276000
1972-07-29 247000
1972-08-05 250000
1972-08-12 246000
1972-08-19 256000
1972-08-26 262000
1972-09-02 258000
1972-09-09 259000
1972-09-16 258000
1972-09-23 255000
1972-09-30 251000
1972-10-07 263000
1972-10-14 250000
1972-10-21 257000
1972-10-28 234000
1972-11-04 255000
1972-11-11 242000
1972-11-18 271000
1972-11-25 235000
1972-12-02 226000
1972-12-09 252000
1972-12-16 263000
1972-12-23 246000
1972-12-30 225000
1973-01-06 226000
1973-01-13 245000
1973-01-20 229000
1973-01-27 214000
1973-02-03 228000
1973-02-10 226000
1973-02-17 216000
1973-02-24 218000
1973-03-03 225000
1973-03-10 229000
1973-03-17 228000
1973-03-24 232000
1973-03-31 222000
1973-04-07 247000
1973-04-14 230000
1973-04-21 243000
1973-04-28 236000
1973-05-05 248000
1973-05-12 238000
1973-05-19 237000
1973-05-26 238000
1973-06-02 232000
1973-06-09 246000
1973-06-16 237000
1973-06-23 242000
1973-06-30 237000
1973-07-07 248000
1973-07-14 232000
1973-07-21 241000
1973-07-28 250000
1973-08-04 256000
1973-08-11 265000
1973-08-18 258000
1973-08-25 254000
1973-09-01 242000
1973-09-08 252000
1973-09-15 245000
1973-09-22 246000
1973-09-29 249000
1973-10-06 236000
1973-10-13 246000
1973-10-20 249000
1973-10-27 235000
1973-11-03 246000
1973-11-10 282000
1973-11-17 254000
1973-11-24 233000
1973-12-01 256000
1973-12-08 266000
1973-12-15 272000
1973-12-22 326000
1973-12-29 300000
1974-01-05 269000
1974-01-12 340000
1974-01-19 321000
1974-01-26 291000
1974-02-02 302000
1974-02-09 369000
1974-02-16 311000
1974-02-23 292000
1974-03-02 301000
1974-03-09 305000
1974-03-16 315000
1974-03-23 314000
1974-03-30 323000
1974-04-06 296000
1974-04-13 297000
1974-04-20 296000
1974-04-27 283000
1974-05-04 287000
1974-05-11 296000
1974-05-18 298000
1974-05-25 309000
1974-06-01 278000
1974-06-08 314000
1974-06-15 303000
1974-06-22 308000
1974-06-29 325000
1974-07-06 311000
1974-07-13 304000
1974-07-20 303000
1974-07-27 320000
1974-08-03 335000
1974-08-10 347000
1974-08-17 332000
1974-08-24 343000
1974-08-31 350000
1974-09-07 350000
1974-09-14 357000
1974-09-21 370000
1974-09-28 366000
1974-10-05 371000
1974-10-12 413000
1974-10-19 389000
1974-10-26 414000
1974-11-02 406000
1974-11-09 441000
1974-11-16 449000
1974-11-23 518000
1974-11-30 474000
1974-12-07 528000
1974-12-14 510000
1974-12-21 521000
1974-12-28 537000
1975-01-04 456000
1975-01-11 554000
1975-01-18 575000
1975-01-25 555000
1975-02-01 559000
1975-02-08 545000
1975-02-15 530000
1975-02-22 544000
1975-03-01 546000
1975-03-08 551000
1975-03-15 531000
1975-03-22 550000
1975-03-29 555000
1975-04-05 537000
1975-04-12 520000
1975-04-19 531000
1975-04-26 513000
1975-05-03 505000
1975-05-10 507000
1975-05-17 514000
1975-05-24 493000
1975-05-31 475000
1975-06-07 529000
1975-06-14 497000
1975-06-21 497000
1975-06-28 459000
1975-07-05 423000
1975-07-12 446000
1975-07-19 445000
1975-07-26 454000
1975-08-02 454000
1975-08-09 459000
1975-08-16 444000
1975-08-23 457000
1975-08-30 446000
1975-09-06 447000
1975-09-13 456000
1975-09-20 433000
1975-09-27 445000
1975-10-04 426000
1975-10-11 429000
1975-10-18 404000
1975-10-25 426000
1975-11-01 414000
1975-11-08 415000
1975-11-15 386000
1975-11-22 401000
1975-11-29 387000
1975-12-06 373000
1975-12-13 368000
1975-12-20 365000
1975-12-27 391000
1976-01-03 362000
1976-01-10 402000
1976-01-17 370000
1976-01-24 363000
1976-01-31 359000
1976-02-07 353000
1976-02-14 344000
1976-02-21 347000
1976-02-28 349000
1976-03-06 348000
1976-03-13 360000
1976-03-20 368000
1976-03-27 366000
1976-04-03 380000
1976-04-10 373000
1976-04-17 361000
1976-04-24 367000
1976-05-01 385000
1976-05-08 395000
1976-05-15 382000
1976-05-22 394000
1976-05-29 402000
1976-06-05 382000
1976-06-12 407000
1976-06-19 399000
1976-06-26 387000
1976-07-03 394000
1976-07-10 372000
1976-07-17 406000
1976-07-24 394000
1976-07-31 388000
1976-08-07 378000
1976-08-14 382000
1976-08-21 400000
1976-08-28 394000
1976-09-04 421000
1976-09-11 383000
1976-09-18 403000
1976-09-25 423000
1976-10-02 408000
1976-10-09 411000
1976-10-16 403000
1976-10-23 409000
1976-10-30 414000
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2011-07-30 406000
2011-08-06 405000
2011-08-13 409000
2011-08-20 415000
2011-08-27 409000
2011-09-03 414000
2011-09-10 429000
2011-09-17 422000
2011-09-24 406000
2011-10-01 405000
2011-10-08 410000
2011-10-15 395000
2011-10-22 403000
2011-10-29 399000
2011-11-05 392000
2011-11-12 383000
2011-11-19 385000
2011-11-26 397000
2011-12-03 387000
2011-12-10 368000
2011-12-17 368000
2011-12-24 386000
2011-12-31 376000
2012-01-07 391000
2012-01-14 367000
2012-01-21 381000
2012-01-28 372000
2012-02-04 368000
2012-02-11 361000
2012-02-18 359000
2012-02-25 365000
2012-03-03 375000
2012-03-10 369000
2012-03-17 368000
2012-03-24 363000
2012-03-31 358000
2012-04-07 387000
2012-04-14 381000
2012-04-21 387000
2012-04-28 372000
2012-05-05 373000
2012-05-12 369000
2012-05-19 371000
2012-05-26 381000
2012-06-02 377000
2012-06-09 383000
2012-06-16 384000
2012-06-23 380000
2012-06-30 372000
2012-07-07 360000
2012-07-14 390000
2012-07-21 368000
2012-07-28 372000
2012-08-04 371000
2012-08-11 369000
2012-08-18 376000
2012-08-25 377000
2012-09-01 371000
2012-09-08 393000
2012-09-15 392000
2012-09-22 377000
2012-09-29 376000
2012-10-06 350000
2012-10-13 386000
2012-10-20 374000
2012-10-27 364000
2012-11-03 365000
2012-11-10 446000
2012-11-17 406000
2012-11-24 388000
2012-12-01 375000
2012-12-08 340000
2012-12-15 356000
2012-12-22 362000
2012-12-29 362000
2013-01-05 363000
2013-01-12 344000
2013-01-19 339000
2013-01-26 366000
2013-02-02 361000
2013-02-09 347000
2013-02-16 362000
2013-02-23 342000
2013-03-02 340000
2013-03-09 343000
2013-03-16 343000
2013-03-23 358000
2013-03-30 375000
2013-04-06 359000
2013-04-13 356000
2013-04-20 343000
2013-04-27 331000
2013-05-04 335000
2013-05-11 360000
2013-05-18 343000
2013-05-25 353000
2013-06-01 346000
2013-06-08 337000
2013-06-15 353000
2013-06-22 347000
2013-06-29 340000
2013-07-06 351000
2013-07-13 344000
2013-07-20 355000
2013-07-27 334000
2013-08-03 339000
2013-08-10 327000
2013-08-17 340000
2013-08-24 336000
2013-08-31 325000
2013-09-07 300000
2013-09-14 323000
2013-09-21 314000
2013-09-28 319000
2013-10-05 368000
2013-10-12 368000
2013-10-19 351000
2013-10-26 347000
2013-11-02 342000
2013-11-09 340000
2013-11-16 331000
2013-11-23 316000
2013-11-30 312000
2013-12-07 354000
2013-12-14 364000
2013-12-21 334000
2013-12-28 332000
2014-01-04 322000
2014-01-11 318000
2014-01-18 327000
2014-01-25 340000
2014-02-01 331000
2014-02-08 337000
2014-02-15 332000
2014-02-22 341000
2014-03-01 319000
2014-03-08 322000
2014-03-15 321000
2014-03-22 313000
2014-03-29 330000
2014-04-05 311000
2014-04-12 308000
2014-04-19 327000
2014-04-26 345000
2014-05-03 325000
2014-05-10 303000
2014-05-17 324000
2014-05-24 305000
2014-05-31 312000
2014-06-07 317000
2014-06-14 314000
2014-06-21 315000
2014-06-28 308000
2014-07-05 302000
2014-07-12 308000
2014-07-19 294000
2014-07-26 303000
2014-08-02 295000
2014-08-09 309000
2014-08-16 303000
2014-08-23 300000
2014-08-30 303000
2014-09-06 307000
2014-09-13 288000
2014-09-20 295000
2014-09-27 290000
2014-10-04 293000
2014-10-11 281000
2014-10-18 290000
2014-10-25 291000
2014-11-01 280000
2014-11-08 291000
2014-11-15 293000
2014-11-22 303000
2014-11-29 291000
2014-12-06 291000
2014-12-13 286000
2014-12-20 276000
2014-12-27 285000
2015-01-03 294000
2015-01-10 304000
2015-01-17 298000
2015-01-24 261000
2015-01-31 281000
2015-02-07 298000
2015-02-14 285000
2015-02-21 305000
2015-02-28 317000
2015-03-07 293000
2015-03-14 290000
2015-03-21 284000
2015-03-28 269000
2015-04-04 282000
2015-04-11 298000
2015-04-18 295000
2015-04-25 269000
2015-05-02 267000
2015-05-09 271000
2015-05-16 276000
2015-05-23 281000
2015-05-30 275000
2015-06-06 278000
2015-06-13 269000
2015-06-20 273000
2015-06-27 275000
2015-07-04 292000
2015-07-11 285000
2015-07-18 265000
2015-07-25 269000
2015-08-01 270000
2015-08-08 274000
2015-08-15 279000
2015-08-22 274000
2015-08-29 279000
2015-09-05 273000
2015-09-12 264000
2015-09-19 269000
2015-09-26 272000
2015-10-03 267000
2015-10-10 265000
2015-10-17 264000
2015-10-24 264000
2015-10-31 275000
2015-11-07 276000
2015-11-14 272000
2015-11-21 261000
2015-11-28 265000
2015-12-05 280000
2015-12-12 268000
2015-12-19 260000
2015-12-26 276000
2016-01-02 273000
2016-01-09 284000
2016-01-16 290000
2016-01-23 269000
2016-01-30 281000
2016-02-06 265000
2016-02-13 263000
2016-02-20 272000
2016-02-27 269000
2016-03-05 257000
2016-03-12 263000
2016-03-19 264000
2016-03-26 273000
2016-04-02 272000
2016-04-09 263000
2016-04-16 255000
2016-04-23 259000
2016-04-30 277000
2016-05-07 290000
2016-05-14 279000
2016-05-21 268000
2016-05-28 264000
2016-06-04 265000
2016-06-11 273000
2016-06-18 261000
2016-06-25 262000
2016-07-02 256000
2016-07-09 257000
2016-07-16 260000
2016-07-23 264000
2016-07-30 266000
2016-08-06 266000
2016-08-13 265000
2016-08-20 265000
2016-08-27 262000
2016-09-03 257000
2016-09-10 253000
2016-09-17 252000
2016-09-24 247000
2016-10-01 246000
2016-10-08 251000
2016-10-15 264000
2016-10-22 257000
2016-10-29 265000
2016-11-05 251000
2016-11-12 232000
2016-11-19 248000
2016-11-26 260000
2016-12-03 252000
2016-12-10 251000
2016-12-17 262000
2016-12-24 254000
2016-12-31 236000
2017-01-07 244000
2017-01-14 246000
2017-01-21 256000
2017-01-28 241000
2017-02-04 236000
2017-02-11 242000
2017-02-18 247000
2017-02-25 232000
2017-03-04 246000
2017-03-11 244000
2017-03-18 255000
2017-03-25 256000
2017-04-01 236000
2017-04-08 237000
2017-04-15 244000
2017-04-22 251000
2017-04-29 241000
2017-05-06 237000
2017-05-13 237000
2017-05-20 234000
2017-05-27 251000
2017-06-03 244000
2017-06-10 238000
2017-06-17 243000
2017-06-24 237000
2017-07-01 248000
2017-07-08 248000
2017-07-15 241000
2017-07-22 245000
2017-07-29 242000
2017-08-05 246000
2017-08-12 236000
2017-08-19 241000
2017-08-26 239000
2017-09-02 299000
2017-09-09 275000
2017-09-16 260000
2017-09-23 262000
2017-09-30 255000
2017-10-07 246000
2017-10-14 232000
2017-10-21 236000
2017-10-28 235000
2017-11-04 240000
2017-11-11 246000
2017-11-18 238000
2017-11-25 237000
2017-12-02 235000
2017-12-09 226000
2017-12-16 242000
2017-12-23 242000
2017-12-30 243000
2018-01-06 251000
2018-01-13 229000
2018-01-20 237000
2018-01-27 221000
2018-02-03 221000
2018-02-10 224000
2018-02-17 220000
2018-02-24 215000
2018-03-03 226000
2018-03-10 223000
2018-03-17 224000
2018-03-24 220000
2018-03-31 237000
2018-04-07 234000
2018-04-14 235000
2018-04-21 207000
2018-04-28 212000
2018-05-05 210000
2018-05-12 224000
2018-05-19 230000
2018-05-26 221000
2018-06-02 221000
2018-06-09 218000
2018-06-16 220000
2018-06-23 220000
2018-06-30 228000
2018-07-07 215000
2018-07-14 212000
2018-07-21 220000
2018-07-28 218000
2018-08-04 218000
2018-08-11 213000
2018-08-18 216000
2018-08-25 214000
2018-09-01 210000
2018-09-08 211000
2018-09-15 213000
2018-09-22 212000
2018-09-29 217000
2018-10-06 213000
2018-10-13 213000
2018-10-20 219000
2018-10-27 217000
2018-11-03 217000
2018-11-10 218000
2018-11-17 222000
2018-11-24 232000
2018-12-01 232000
2018-12-08 203000
2018-12-15 216000
2018-12-22 219000
2018-12-29 228000
2019-01-05 220000
2019-01-12 216000
2019-01-19 209000
2019-01-26 236000
2019-02-02 230000
2019-02-09 228000
2019-02-16 218000
2019-02-23 224000
2019-03-02 220000
2019-03-09 224000
2019-03-16 219000
2019-03-23 215000
2019-03-30 211000
2019-04-06 203000
2019-04-13 203000
2019-04-20 226000
2019-04-27 230000
2019-05-04 225000
2019-05-11 217000
2019-05-18 213000
2019-05-25 218000
2019-06-01 220000
2019-06-08 220000
2019-06-15 219000
2019-06-22 224000
2019-06-29 222000
2019-07-06 211000
2019-07-13 217000
2019-07-20 211000
2019-07-27 216000
2019-08-03 214000
2019-08-10 218000
2019-08-17 215000
2019-08-24 215000
2019-08-31 219000
2019-09-07 208000
2019-09-14 211000
2019-09-21 215000
2019-09-28 218000
2019-10-05 212000
2019-10-12 218000
2019-10-19 213000
2019-10-26 217000
2019-11-02 212000
2019-11-09 222000
2019-11-16 223000
2019-11-23 211000
2019-11-30 206000
2019-12-07 237000
2019-12-14 229000
2019-12-21 218000
2019-12-28 220000
2020-01-04 212000
2020-01-11 207000
2020-01-18 220000
2020-01-25 212000
2020-02-01 201000
2020-02-08 204000
2020-02-15 215000
2020-02-22 220000
2020-02-29 217000
2020-03-07 211000
2020-03-14 281000 281000
2020-03-21 3,394,000
The U.S. is experiencing a record-breaking spike in unemployment: Initial weekly unemployment claims since 1967 and projected claims for the week ending March 21, 2020
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The data below can be saved or copied directly into Excel.

Note: Projection for the week ending March 21, 2020, is based on authors’ analysis of news reports from March 15 to March 21, 2020, regarding unemployment claims in 35 states and D.C., extrapolated to all 50 states. Shaded areas denote recessions.

Source: U.S. Employment and Training Administration, Initial Claims [ICSA], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/ICSA, March 23, 2020

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For scale, consider that 3.4 million Americans moving from employment to unemployment would raise the number of the unemployed from 5.7 million to 9.1 million. This alone would raise the unemployment rate by more than half, by 2 percentage points from 3.5% to 5.5%, moving back to 2015 levels in just one week. This spike represents 2.2% of all jobs in the economy. The largest monthly rise in the unemployment rate in American history was plus 1.3 percentage points in October 1949.

To arrive at our estimate of 3.4 million newly unemployed workers over the last week, we collected news reports from March 15 to March 21 and applied a simple extrapolation to fill in estimates for those days and those states that were missing reports.

Many state UI agencies reported partial information to the press over the course of the week. We gathered and harmonized the reported numbers to calculate an estimated full-week initial claims statistic for as many states as possible; we were able to do so for 35 states and the District of Columbia (see Table 1). This required extrapolating to a weekly number based on a few days of reported information, paying attention to the number of weekdays and weekend days included in each public report. These 35 states and the District of Columbia accounted for 78% of national claims over the prior four weeks. This implies a state growth rate relative to its average weekly initial claims over the prior four weeks among these states.

Table 1

State unemployment insurance initial claims predictions for week ending March 21 based on news reports, for 35 states and D.C.

State Projected claims
Alaska 5,000
Alabama 11,000
California 639,000
Colorado 43,000
Connecticut 60,000
District of Columbia 14,000
Delaware 18,000
Georgia 20,000
Hawaii 12,000
Iowa 67,000
Illinois 121,000
Indiana 43,000
Kansas 12,000
Kentucky 17,000
Louisiana 35,000
Massachusetts 108,000
Maryland 31,000
Maine 12,000
Minnesota 108,000
Michigan 123,000
Montana 13,000
North Carolina 94,000
New Hampshire 27,000
New Jersey 85,000
New Mexico 14,000
Ohio 149,000
Oklahoma 11,000
Oregon 94,000
Pennsylvania 354,000
Rhode Island 42,000
South Carolina 17,000
Tennessee 5,000
Texas 116,000
Virginia 43,000
Wisconsin 67,000
West Virginia 5,000
Total for 35 states and D.C. 2,630,000
Extrapolated total for all 50 states and D.C. 3,394,000

Note: The 35 states plus D.C. listed above accounted for 77.5% of unemployment claims in the four weeks prior to the week ending March 21, 2020. Therefore, we assume that 2,630,000 represents 77.5% of the total claims for all 50 states and D.C. in the week ending March 21, 2020, so the total estimated claims (rounded to the nearest thousand) are 2,630,000/0.775 ≈ 3,394,000.

Sources: Sources for each state’s projected claims can be found in column C of this spreadsheet.

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For the 15 states lacking any public reports, we assume they have the same average growth rate as among states with report-based estimates. If growth rates were, in fact, lower in the states that did not report, our estimate would overstate the size of claims. We make two additional assumptions. First, that the ratio of average claims on weekdays to weekend days is 3. Changing this shifts predictions by only a few hundred thousand. Second, that the rate of claims growth is constant throughout the week. This a conservative assumption because many of the news reports are concentrated early in the week. In states with rising claims over the week, our assumption would lead to an underestimate of weekly claims. An enriched model, which harnesses state-level changes in Google Trends search interest in “file for unemployment” to predict the missing states’ estimates, produces similar top-line results. States with and without news-report-based estimates have similar average changes in Google Trends, providing some evidence that claims growth rates may be similar in the 15 states with news-report-based estimates as the 36 with them.

The number of new unemployment insurance claims is a narrow measure of unemployment and underemployment. Not everyone who is unemployed can claim benefits, and many states’ UI offices were overwhelmed by the surge in demand this past week, so not all claims could be accepted. The true impacts are undoubtedly of larger scale than described here. Further, unemployment insurance benefits replace less than half of families’ usual income.

States require federal support as their budgets get hammered by rising costs and falling revenues. Only the federal government can borrow at a large enough scale to match the scale of the problem. These changes are necessary to save lives threatened by COVID-19, given our failure to limit the novel coronavirus spread through means other than broad, indiscriminate quarantine. American working families are paying a large price through no fault of their own. But there is no shortcutting public health to get the American economy back to work. A healthy economy requires public health.

The coronavirus economic policy response must include relief and redistribution now and major demand stimulus once the crisis passes

Key takeaways

Sen. Mitch McConnell’s bill would make the U.S. economic response as far behind as the public health response, relative to international best practice.

An economic relief package must include:

  • Maximization of the income that can be delivered through existing social insurance and safety net programs during the lockdown and its aftermath
  • Substantial aid to state and local governments
  • Bailouts of industries’ workers, not shareholders, creditors, or senior management
  • Direct cash payments to households
  • Conditions-based triggers that keep aid flowing

The U.S. economy will contract enormously in the coming months. Economic activity will fall more sharply than in perhaps any other period in modern history, and tens of millions of U.S. employees will be forced to stop working. Unlike previous economic shocks, we want this contraction to happen—it is a byproduct of the necessary public health response to the coronavirus.

But even as major parts of the economy shut down completely, people will need resources to live, resources they generally get by working. The United States is a rich enough country to provide these, even in the face of a prolonged economic shutdown. We even have obvious policy levers that can transfer huge amounts of resources to those out of work through no fault of their own: the existing social insurance and safety net programs that have been built exactly for this purpose—if not necessarily envisioned to work on this scale.

These existing social insurance and safety net programs can be supplemented with ad hoc emergency measures to support the vast majority of U.S. families through the social distancing measures of the epidemic. These same measures can also ensure that families emerge from the lockdown with finances largely intact. When the all-clear is sounded, a major fiscal stimulus to boost demand should be ready to rev up the economy as fast as possible. The quicker that firms feel pressure to supply goods and services to customers, the more likely they will be to reestablish the employment relationships they had with workers before the crisis hit, and the less economic scarring will occur.

Read more

Fixing unemployment insurance and the coronavirus response

The novel coronavirus has brought sudden attention to the unemployment insurance (UI) system and its ability to quickly deliver aid to families and stimulus to the economy. Economists estimate that we will lose nearly 14 million jobs by the summer even with a sizable stimulus package. Workers in industries heavily dependent on women and workers of color, like food service and retail, have borne the brunt of the pandemic. Policymakers must focus both on immediate changes to help these individuals, and structural fixes that can gird the nation for the challenges of a recession and future economic crises.

This fact sheet is a joint project of the Women’s Law Center, the National Employment Law Project, the Economic Policy Institute, the Century Foundation, and the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality Economic Security and Opportunity Initiative. View the fact sheet

The UI System Is in Desperate Need of Repair

The basic UI program, operated by the states with federal oversight; the federal-state Extended Benefits (EB) program; and the Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) program are facing this crisis at one of their weakest points in history.

  • Access to UI Is Already Extremely Limited: The percentage of all jobless workers receiving a UI payment has dropped from 43.7 percent in 2001 to just 27.8 percent in 2018, with low-wage workers the least likely to receive benefits.
  • UI Programs Have Been Inadequately Funded for Decades: During the last recession, 36 state unemployment trust funds went broke, and despite the longest economic expansion in U.S. history, 22 entered the COVID-19 crisis with insufficient savings. Without aid many trust funds will go broke again.
  • UI Benefits Are Meager: The average benefit of $382 per week only represents 32.7 percent of the average wage.
  • UI Administration Has Been Dramatically Under-Resourced: The federal grants for state operations have been cut by 30 percent since the 1980s, leaving states with threadbare staff and antiquated computer systems overwhelmed by COVID-19. The additional $1 billion appropriated by Congress won’t meet the need.
  • Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) is ill equipped to handle this or other crises given its low benefit amounts, unrealistic time limits, and limited coverage.

Ongoing Federal Reforms Represent a Timely Down Payment on Overdue Structural Change

The Families First Coronavirus Act and the stimulus package being negotiated go a long way toward addressing the challenges facing unemployed workers during this current crisis.

  • The Families First Coronavirus Act delivered $1 billion in aid to states to process the spike in claims, and granted states more flexibility to approve unemployment claims due to the unique circumstances of the COVID-19, such as quarantines and stay-at-home orders. It also provided full federal funding of the federal EB program, which will trigger on when unemployment rises.
  • The 3rd COVID-19 response package is reported to have $250 billion in temporary enhancements to unemployment assistance through 2020, including a $600 increase in the weekly checks of unemployed workers, a special disaster unemployment assistance program (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance) that covers the self employed, a temporary 13 week extension of benefits, federal funds to eliminate the waiting week and to support shared work programs.

Now Is the Time to Advance Structural Reforms

Unfortunately, the challenges ahead in the coming months of crisis and recovery will extend beyond the timeline for these shorter-term reforms, which alone are not enough to upgrade the UI system to fully respond to a crisis of this magnitude. Businesses large and small are already closing, and many workers will count on the UI program to weather the many months it will take to find new jobs in an economy slowly regaining its footing. Providing a strong, sustained structure of benefits now is a critical part of the architecture of mitigation and recovery.

In the coming weeks and months, Congress must:

  • Fix automatic EB triggers: Turn on additional weeks of benefits automatically anytime the unemployment rate jumps a half percentage point, and add more weeks when it goes up to 6.5, 7.5, and 8.5 percent.
  • Require states to enact shared-work programs that allow companies to avoid layoffs by putting workers on part-time schedules with partial unemployment benefits and provide federal funding for these programs during economic crises like now.
  • Create minimum state standards around benefit length and generosity: Federal law should require all states provide a minimum of 26 weeks of benefits, reversing the actions of states that reduced the duration of benefits after the Great Recession. State UI programs should also replace at least 60 percent of a worker’s weekly wages, with a maximum of 67 percent of state’s average weekly wage.
  • Create a jobseekers allowance of 13 weeks, at a lower benefit amount, for workers who are not covered by regular or pandemic unemployment insurance. This includes populations such as new entrants and students graduating into this recession, and returning caregivers, some of whom may need additional wrap-around services to support job search.
  • Fill holes in the unemployment safety net: Increase recipiency of low-wage workers, who are disproportionately people of color and women, by requiring states to count the most recent earnings of UI applicants, treat part-time and full-time workers equally, and recognize unemployment caused by compelling personal issues such as illness, domestic violence, and relocation to follow a partner to a new job.
  • Adequately fund unemployment benefits: Current federal law only requires states to tax $7,000 of each worker’s wage. This taxable wage base should be increased over five years to one-third of the Social Security wage base and indexed to gradually increase every year, to provide a stronger foundation for financing. Link any rescue funding for state trust funds to these long term fixes.
  • Help UI claimants get back to work through the Wagner-Peyser Employment Services and periodic reemployment services.

Congress failed to fix these structural flaws in the wake of the Great Recession and the numerous state roll-backs of UI benefits and lingering insolvency that followed. The COVID-19 crisis should be a wake-up call to the need to immediately improve the basic structure of the nation’s first responder to economic distress.

Here are safeguards needed in bailout packages to protect working people and fight corporate greed

This week, Congress continues to negotiate a fiscal stimulus package to help ease the economic shock of the coronavirus. In these negotiations, it is critical that lawmakers establish strong conditions for industry bailouts. Working families, not just shareholders and corporate executives, must receive the benefits of any taxpayer-funded bailout.

Our economy is marked by extreme inequality. Chief executive officer (CEO) compensation has grown 940% since 1978, while typical worker compensation has risen only 12% during that time. From 1979 to 2018, the wages of the top 1% grew 158%, whereas the wages of the bottom 90% combined grew just 24%, less than one-sixth as fast. Extreme inequality and wage stagnation for virtually all but the highest earners for most of the last four decades have left fewer and fewer U.S. workers able to access the middle class. What Congress does now with this fiscal stimulus will either help address this inequality, or compound it and leave more workers behind.Read more

The unemployment rate is not the right measure to make economic policy decisions around the coronavirus-driven recession: Policymakers should use the employment rate to continue or stop economic assistance

Policymakers often use the unemployment rate to trigger when to turn on or turn off financial assistance in economic downturns and recoveries. The unemployment rate, however, is a bad choice for a policy trigger in the current pandemic-driven recession.

A large share of workers who lose their jobs in the coming weeks and months will very likely not be counted in the official unemployment rate because they won’t be actively looking for work. Given the nature of the pandemic, where we are all being told to stay away from work and all non-essential public activity, many laid-off workers will make the rational decision not to search for work until they get the all-clear from public health authorities.

Think of the restaurant worker who just got laid off. They might not report looking for work because that whole sector is shut down. What would be the point in actively looking for a job when it’s clear that there are none out there?

(In this video, Elise breaks down how to go about finding the right measures for economic policy decisions.)

Instead of using the unemployment rate as a trigger-off mechanism, policymakers should use the employment rate—the share of the adult population with a job.

Read more

The coronavirus fiscal response should be as big as needed—but current forecasts indicate at least $2.1 trillion is needed through 2020: The expected hit to the economy would mean almost 14 million job losses by summer

  • The stimulus package to deal with the coronavirus economic shock should be as big as economic conditions dictate.
  • The package to restore the nation’s economic health should spend at least $2.1 trillion through the end of 2020. This amount could increase even this year, and aid should continue past this year if conditions warrant.
  • The fiscal response should continue until we reach full employment.
  • The stimulus should be well-targeted and not squandered on unconditional giveaways to business that don’t spur the needed growth.
  • The risk of going too small on stimulus is large and scary, while the risk of going too big is almost nonexistent.

Congress is taking up a fiscal stabilization package this week to cushion the economic shock of the coronavirus. A natural question arising in this debate will be “how big should it be?” The experience of the Great Recession argues clearly that the answer to this has to be “as big as is needed.” This is unsatisfying but is the most important answer to this question so we don’t repeat the fiscal policy blunders of the past.

For those who absolutely need a number to focus on, the likely cost of a fiscal boost sufficient to restore economic health by the end of 2020 starts at $2.1 trillion—but it could be more, and fiscal policy should be set to deliver more if conditions warrant. And conditions continue to worsen. The expected hit to the economy would mean a job loss of almost 14 million workers by summer.Read more

Every state will lose jobs as a result of the coronavirus: Policymakers must take action

Workers across the country have already lost their jobs as businesses temporarily shutter in response to the social distancing measures necessary to stop the spread of coronavirus—a trend which can be mitigated if policymakers act quickly. Expectations of just how many jobs will be lost are rapidly evolving. Goldman Sachs forecasts that the economy will contract by 2.5% over the first half of this year—which we estimate will translate into a loss of 3 million jobs by June. An even bleaker forecast from Deutsche Bank, which is in line with projections from JPMorgan, suggests that 7.5 million jobs will be lost by the summer. In this post, we attempt to predict the state-level impacts of these losses using the midpoint of these two forecasts—an estimated 5.25 million jobs lost.

We have distributed this projected job loss across states to provide a sense of the magnitude of the state-level shock, shown in Figure A. The coronavirus shock that is causing this recession is broad-based; the effects will likely be felt in every industry and geography. Still, workers in certain industries will be disproportionately affected—in particular, workers in food service, accommodations, and brick-and-mortar retail. As a result, states where these industries make up a larger share of employment, such as Florida, Hawaii, and Nevada, will be particularly hard hit. In Nevada, where two out of every five jobs are in leisure, hospitality, or retail, the state will likely lose 5.3% of private-sector jobs.Read more

Not everybody can work from home: Black and Hispanic workers are much less likely to be able to telework

The commonly paired statements that “everyone is working from home” and “everyone is having their goods delivered” amid the coronavirus outbreak ignores a whole segment of the workforce—the ones prepping and delivering their purchases. In fact, less than 30% of workers can work from home, and the ability to work from home differs enormously by race and ethnicity.

The chart below separates the share of workers who can telework for the three largest race groups as well as by Hispanic ethnicity (these groups are not mutually exclusive in these data). Asian workers are the most likely to be able to work from home, followed by non-Hispanic and white workers. Only 16.2% of Hispanic workers and 19.7% of black workers can telework.

Figure A

Less than one in five black workers and roughly one in six Hispanic workers are able to work from home: Share of workers who can telework, by race and ethnicity, 2017–2018

Race/ethnicity Able to telework
Race White  29.9%
Black or African American 19.7%
Asian 37.0%
Ethnicity Hispanic or Latino 16.2% 
Non-Hispanic or Latino 31.4% 

 

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The next figure illustrates the share of workers who can telework by wage. Not surprisingly, low-wage workers have the least flexibility in their jobs: Only 9.2% of workers in the lowest quartile of the wage distribution can telework compared with 61.5% of workers in the highest quartile.

Figure B

Higher-wage workers are six times as likely to be able to work from home as lower-wage workers: Share of workers who can telework, by wage level, 2017–2018

Usual weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers(single jobholders only) Share of workers who would work at home
Earnings greater than the 75th percentile 61.50%
Earnings from 50th to 75th percentiles 37.30%
Earnings from 25th to 50th percentiles 20.10%
Earnings less than or equal to the 25th percentile 9.20%
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