Another 2.6 million people filed for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits last week (not seasonally adjusted), bringing the total to more than 33 million workers filing for UI benefits in the past eight weeks during the coronavirus pandemic.
While most states saw a decline in UI claims filed relative to the prior week, seven states saw increases in UI claims. Connecticut saw, by far, the largest percent increase in claims (726.5%) compared with the prior week, followed by South Dakota (30.6%), Florida (26.9%), Washington (13.7%), Georgia (5.7%), New York (2.7%), and Wisconsin (1.8%).
Connecticut had a record-high 298,680 initial UI claims last week—more than any other state—followed by Georgia (241,387) and Florida (221,905). This comes after several states, including Florida and Georgia, have allowed restaurants and similar businesses to reopen, indicating that state policymakers are risking a greater outbreak with very little of the economic benefits they had expected.
Figure A and Table 1 below compare UI claims filed last week with the prior week and the pre-virus period, in both level and percent terms. It also shows the cumulative number of unemployment claims since March 7 and that number as a share of each state’s labor force. In three states, over a third of the workforce filed an initial claim during the past two months: Georgia (35.8%), Kentucky (35.8%), and Hawaii (33.4%).
Every state, especially many in the South, is continuing to see astonishingly high numbers of claims relative to the pre-virus period. Last week, Connecticut saw the largest percent increase in claims (11,471%) compared with the pre-virus period, followed by Georgia (4,409%). Eight of the 10 states that had the highest percent change in initial UI claims relative to the pre-virus period are in the South: Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Virginia.
The data we have provided so far has not included people who applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)—the new federal program that extend unemployment compensation to workers who are not eligible for regular UI but are out of work due to the pandemic, such as gig workers and people who left their jobs to care for a child. Today’s news release from the Department of Labor (DOL) provided our first look at the number of workers who have applied for PUA in each state. In the last two weeks alone, more than 1.8 million workers in 29 states have filed for PUA. Table 2 displays the limited information we have so far on initial state-level PUA claims. In the last two weeks, California reported the most PUA claims (434,397), followed by Michigan (224,057), North Carolina (142,302), Massachusetts (139,290), and New Jersey (127,334).
To mitigate the economic harm to workers, the next federal relief and recovery package should extend the across-the-board $600 increase in weekly unemployment benefits well past its expiration at the end of July. The package should also include substantial aid to state and local governments, worker protections, investments in our democracy, and resources for coronavirus testing and contact tracing, which is necessary to reopen the economy. The Heroes Act, introduced by Democrats in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, would provide critical relief and recovery measures for U.S. workers and is an essential step forward.