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New claims for state unemployment insurance 1.9 million in last week of May

By Masao Suzuki

Nearly three times as high as the pre-pandemic record

San José, CA – On Thursday, June 4 the federal Department of Labor reported that 1.9 million new claims for state unemployment insurance or UI benefits were filed in the week ending May 30. This was down by 250,000 claims from the previous week, continuing the slow decline in new applications. However, this was still more than two and a half times higher than the previous pre-pandemic record of almost 700,000 claims made during the deep 1981-82 recession.

The total number of people receiving state unemployment benefits – which is delayed by a week – rose by 650,000 to 21.5 million for the week ending May 23. The total number of the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or PUA and Pandemic Employment Assistance or PEA rose by 3 million to a total of almost 11 million in the week ending May 16. Putting together the state UI totals along with the federal PUA and PEA means that almost 30 million individuals, or 20% of the total labor force, were collecting aid for lost jobs or income as of the middle of May.

Years of underfunding and neglect at best, and sabotage at worst, has hamstrung the ability of state and federal government to get aid to those who need it. Thousands who lost their livelihoods have not been able to file for state unemployment benefits, and at least four states – Arkansas, Kansas, New Hampshire and West Virginia – all with Republican governors – have not even started to pay federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.

Things are so bad that there is a growing number of errors in the reports. For example, there are at least a half a million PUA and PEA claims being paid through states that are not showing up in the federal reports, meaning that the actual total benefits being paid in mid-May was more than 30 million.

Worst of all, thousands of people are being thrown off of unemployment for refusing or even hesitating to return to work in unsafe jobs. States such as Oklahoma and Ohio are encouraging employers to report workers unwilling or unable to return to work and cut them off of unemployment benefits. This is one of the reasons that almost all states are rushing to ‘reopen’ despite a majority of Americans thinking that the pace is too fast. Businesses and their bought and paid for politicians want to use the threat of hunger and homelessness to force people back to work to try to restore profits, the pandemic be damned.

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