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Total number of people getting unemployment benefits continues to climb

By Masao Suzuki

COVID-19 infections and end to enhanced benefits to make a bad situation worse

San José, CA – On Thursday, July 9, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that the broadest measure of people on unemployment continued to climb. In the week ending June 20, the total number was 32.9 million, up by 1.4 million from a week earlier. This number includes those who are receiving the regular state unemployment insurance benefits, the growing number getting the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or PUA, the Federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation or PEUC, and other smaller programs.

The latest report on new applications for state unemployment benefits for the week ending July 4 did fall slightly to 1.31 million, down 99,000 from the week before. However new claims for the federal PUA rose by 42,000 to 1.04 million from a week earlier. Looking at only the slow decline in the state UI applications can be misleading as people on UI are barely more than half (52%) of all individuals getting aid. Further, even as new layoffs may be slowing, fewer people are getting hired back, boosting the total number getting aid.

Even this grim picture of more than 30 million people relying on direct government aid is looking worse. Yesterday the United States reported another record high in COVID-19 infections, with almost 60,000 new cases in a single day. Even worse, hotspots across the South and Southwest – Florida, Texas and Arizona – are seeing their hospitals in crisis, with intensive care units full and shortages of personal protective equipment, ventilators and medical supplies.

Back in April we saw the United States emerge as the world’s hotspot for COVID-19, rising above the outbreak in Europe. But while Europe has been able to dramatically reduce the number of new infections, the United States is still the world’s leader in infections and deaths. Three southern and southwestern states: Arizona, Florida and South Carolina, have more new infections, adjusted for population, than any country in the world. This increase in infections, hospitalizations, and now deaths are leading to more people pulling back from restaurants and shopping, and to businesses cutting back on operations.

Food pantries across the country facing historic demands and hunger is on the rise. There is a growing threat of mass evictions as state and local eviction moratoriums expire. In July more than a third (36%) of renters have missed some or all of their rent and these numbers will rise in August with the end of the expanded $600 a week unemployment benefits to end on or before July 31. Companies large and small are announcing more layoffs, or mass job cuts when their government aid runs out. Harley Davidson, Walgreens and Wells Fargo all announced plans for more layoffs. Most dramatically, United Airlines said that they would cut one half of their U.S. workers when federal aid ends at the end of September.

With the continuing economic crisis in mind, the Democrat-controlled House passed their HEROES Act, which would extend and expand the provisions of the earlier CARES act through the end of the year. In addition to extended the expanded unemployment, it includes a second round of payments that would include adult dependents and taxpaying undocumented immigrants left out of the CARES act, as well as more for state and local governments, and a small amount for renters.

In contrast, all the Republicans have been able to do is to declare the HEROES Act “Dead on arrival” and that they don’t want to extend the $600 a week benefits. But neither the Republican-controlled Senate nor the Trump administration has a concrete proposal. To add insult to injury, the Senate is taking a two-and-a-half-week recess and holiday that started on July 3. They won’t come back until Monday, July 20, leaving just days for them to agree on a plan and then negotiate with House on a bill. The fact of the matter is that many Republicans want the aid to expire, seeing it as a barrier to get workers to go back to work at dangerous jobs.

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