The coronavirus pandemic continues to take a toll on employment. The Washington Post reports today, Some 881,000 people claimed jobless benefits last week as labor market continues to reel from pandemic:

More than 800,000 new claims for unemployment insurance were filed last week — a sign of the coronavirus pandemic’s continued pressure on the labor market, more than five months in.

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The Labor Department changed its methodology in calculating the overall jobless claims number to make the data more reliable by taking into account seasonal swings. Under that metric, 881,000 applications were processed last week.

In the unadjusted metric, state unemployment claims were around 833,000 — a slight rise from the previous week.

Another 759,000 people applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), the program for self-employed and gig workers, an increase of about 150,000, from the previous week.

All told, 29 million people were receiving some form of unemployment insurance as of mid-August — an increase of two million from the week previously — as more people remain jobless or are joining the ranks of the unemployed, than those going back to work full time.

“The numbers just clearly show a continued level of high distress in the country,” said Stephanie Aaronson, a labor economist at the Brookings Institution. “These are just terrible numbers.”

Though the numbers have trended downward since their peak in March, they still dwarf historic highs, like the pre-pandemic record of 695,000 of new unemployment claims from 1982, as well as typical averages.

Wait for it … “The White House hailed the new unemployment claim numbers on Thursday, saying they boded well for Friday’s jobs report.” Only Donald Trump would try to spin 29 million unemployed – depression level unemployment – as a positive thing.

In the early years of the Great Depression, President Herbert Hoover was fond of saying that “prosperity was just around the corner” (these 17 quotations from or about Herbert Hoover proved that he was a poor prophet of the hard times ahead). Sound familiar? Where Trump stands on economic promises (a check list).

Where does this leave Arizona’s unemployed? The temporary $300 federal supplemental unemployment assistance that some of you may have qualified for is about to run out of funds. Howard Fischer reports, Unemployment fund expected to dry up in weeks:

Hundreds of thousands of unemployed Arizonans are within weeks of losing more than half of their benefits.

And that would leave them with just the $240 a week — if not less — that the state provides, the second lowest in the nation.

Michael Wisehart, director of the state Department of Economic Security, said Wednesday he has been assured there are sufficient federal dollars to pay the $300 in extra benefits in the special federal Lost Wage Assistance program for this week. That is the fifth week that has been available.

Wisehart also said he believes there’s enough federal cash for a sixth week.

He said though, that given that other states are drawing against the $44 billion federal allocation, the dollars will dry up before Week 7. And he said it likely will come without warning.

But Gov. Doug Ducey has no plans to have the state step in and try to make up even part of the difference.

“We’ve known these funds were limited,” said press aide Patrick Ptak. He said that’s why Arizona moved quickly to accept the offer by President Trump to get a share of that federal cash.

And going forward for Arizona’s unemployed?

“As we’ve said all along, Congress needs to work together to extend these benefits long-term,” Ptak said.

Riiight. Arizona’s Republican congressional delegation are all on the record as opposed to extending the $600 supplemental unemployment assistance in the Heroes Act passed by the House in mid-May. It’s not clear that they would support any level of supplemental unemployment assistance. Some of them don’t even believe the pandemic is real. They want you lazy “takers” to go back to work and be “a warrior” in the war on Covid-19 as the president says, and be willing to risk your life and your family’s life for the sake of the economy (i.e., the stock market, which is the only thing that they really care about). The investor class aka the predator class have been making out like bandits in this pandemic, while you are relying on an unemployment check and help from the local food bank.

Complicating matters, Wisehart said that the economy remains soft and Arizonans continue to lose their jobs.

He said about 131,000 people made first-time applications for benefits last week. That compares with 86,000 the prior week and just 50,000 the week before.

The situation is even more dire than that.

Wisehart said the unemployment trust fund — the dollars set aside by a tax on employers to pay regular state benefits — will become insolvent in about eight weeks. [by the end of October]

Put simply, the account which had $1.1 billion in it before the COVID-19 outbreak and the restrictions imposed by Ducey on business operations is now down to about $400 million. And Wisehart said the state is burning through the cash at about $50 million a week, with no end in sight.

“Obviously the pandemic isn’t going to end soon,” he said.

That won’t mean an end to regular state jobless benefits. Instead, it will mean Arizona will have to borrow money from the U.S. Department of Labor.

“But you have to pay that money back, through taxes on employers, going forward,” Wisehart said. And that, in turn, could provide a new financial impediment to companies still reeling with the effects of the pandemic.

Ptak said his boss has set aside more than $400 million Arizona got from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. That could be used to pay jobless benefits going forward rather than forcing the state to borrow and raising taxes on employers.

Wait, you’re saying that Gov. Ducey created his own “rainy day fund” out of money that was intended to go to businesses and the unemployed to inject money into the Arizona economy, and to provide relief to front line workers and hospitals? $400 million? That sounds like a scandalous amount of pocket change to me. Somebody had better be asking questions. Time for an audit.

But with $50 million a week more going out in benefits than what is being collected from employers, that becomes only a temporary solution.

That still leaves the question of the nearly 400,000 Arizonans who will lose that extra $300 a week sometime this month.

State law entitles those who lost their jobs through no fault of their own to collect half of what they were earning, with the proceeds coming from a levy paid by all employers on the first $7,000 of each worker’s salary. But lawmakers capped that at $240 a week; only Mississippi pays less.

There has been little pressure on lawmakers to alter that given what has been the state’s relatively low unemployment plus strong job market. In fact, in a typical pre-COVID week only about 18,000 Arizonans were collecting benefits.

As recently as July, Ducey refused to discuss altering the $240 cap.

* * *

Ducey has repeatedly sidestepped questions about the ability of Arizonans to survive on $240 a week (or less) — the same as it has been since 2004 — by pointing out the federal government was providing another $600 a week through Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program. And when those dollars ran out, President Trump agreed to put up $44 billion from the federal Disaster Relief Fund for the $300-a-week Lost Wage Assistance program.

Assuming no congressional action, that leaves Arizona’s jobless with just that $240 maximum — and no interest by Ducey in revisiting that.

Also, not everyone qualified for that supplemental unemployment benefit. The federal program, announced Aug. 8, requires the jobless to receive at least $100 in state benefits in order to qualify. The AP reports, A new $300 federal jobless benefit? Not likely for some (excerpt):

The administration rolled out the new $300-a-week benefit, using money from a $44 billion disaster relief fund, after Congress and the White House failed to agree to extend the $600 payment. It was initially announced as $400, but that included an additional $100 from state funds that almost no states are providing.

Yet because of a raft of restrictions and bureaucratic hurdles, more than 1 million of the unemployed won’t receive that $300 check, and their financial struggles will deepen. Many, like Fenderson, were low-paid workers whose state unemployment aid falls below the $100 weekly threshold. That stands to widen the inequalities that disproportionately hurt Black and Latino workers, who are more likely to work in low-wage jobs.

Some gig and contract workers won’t qualify, either. What’s more, the Trump administration’s program requires the unemployed to certify that their job loss stemmed from the coronavirus — a provision that could trip up many. And the disaster relief money that is funding the new benefit could run dry in coming weeks.

On Thursday, the government said the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell last week to a still-elevated 881,000. It shows that the pandemic keeps forcing many businesses to slash jobs. Counting all the government’s aid programs, roughly 29 million people are receiving some form of unemployment aid.

The rules to qualify for the new $300 federal check could undercut the administration’s efforts to aid the jobless at a time of high unemployment. Eliza Forsythe, an economist at the University of Illinois, calculates that about 6% of people receiving state unemployment aid — 840,000 Americans — won’t qualify for the $300 federal benefit because they earned too little before the pandemic. And that figure is likely an underestimate, Forsythe said, because it doesn’t include gig and contract workers.

Responding to the problem, five states — New Hampshire, Kentucky, West Virginia, Montana, and Vermont — have said they will raise their minimum weekly unemployment payouts to $100 so that the unemployed in their states can receive the $300 check, said Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation.

There you go, Governor Ducey and Republican legislators, a simple solution that even you can understand: raise Arizona’s measly unemployment benefit so that residents can qualify for the federal supplemental unemployment assistance.

Forty-four states have gained approval from the federal government to provide the $300 federal check, though these authorizations are typically for just three weeks of payments. States must then apply for additional weeks. Just seven states, with 15% of the nation’s unemployed, have begun paying out the benefit, the Century Foundation calculates.

The $300 benefit can be retroactive, so many states will pay it to people who were unemployed in early August. That could drain the available money by mid-September.

* * *

The new requirement that the unemployed certify that their job loss was due to the coronavirus will disqualify many, said Michele Evermore, a policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project. Most recipients of state jobless aid haven’t had to answer that question before, Evermore said, and it might not be clear that their eligibility for the $300 depends on the answer. Some may think they’re being asked whether they have had COVID-19, Stettner said. And some layoffs, of course, are unrelated to the virus.

Then there are those Americans who earned most of their money before the viral outbreak as contract or gig workers but also worked part time in traditional jobs. The government’s $2 trillion relief package made gig workers and contractors eligible for unemployment aid for the first time (PUA) — but only if all their income was from such work.

If these workers spent even one or two days a week in traditional jobs, they must apply for aid through regular state unemployment programs, based on their modest income from that work. This could limit their benefit checks to less than $100 and bar them from receiving the $300 supplement.

What is Arizona doing for the unemployed who do not qualify for the temporary $300 supplemental unemployment benefit about to run out of funds? Nothing. You simply do not exist in the eyes of Governor Ducey and Republican legislators. You are the invisible poor.

They don’t care about the 400,000 Arizonans receiving regular unemployment either, a miserly $240 week or less for most of you.

It’s up to you to make your voices heard by voting these Republicans out of office in November.




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