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Why the “Good News” about Unemployment Insurance (UI) Is Misleading: Instead of “Plunging,” Total UI Recipients Rose to Record High

Media Reports Miss Millions of Federal UI Recipients
June 23, 2009 — The Jobs Search   

Last week’s initial UI benefit claims data [1] from the U.S. Department of Labor set off a common refrain in the media that the number of individuals collecting UI benefits supposedly “plunged,” which is touted as “evidence the job market is starting to thaw.” [2] Headlines included “Continuing Claims Fall for Jobless Benefits” (Washington Post), “Unemployment Rolls Post Decline” (Chicago Tribune), and “Number of People Receiving Jobless Benefits Drops” (LA Times).

However, by focusing only on the number collecting State UI benefits, such headlines ignore the rising numbers collecting Federal UI benefits, creating an inaccurate picture. In fact, instead of “plunging,” in the most recent week the total number of unemployed workers collecting State or Federal UI benefits rose to a record high of nearly 8.8 million. [3]


Source: Ways and Means staff, based on U.S. Department of Labor data.

The data in the graphic above and table below extend back to the creation of the Federal UI “temporary” extended benefits program last summer. They show how in recent months millions of unemployed workers have transitioned from State onto Federal UI benefits, which are available for up to a record 53 weeks after recipients exhaust up to 26 weeks of State UI benefits [4] . Overall, total (State and Federal) UI receipt is triple pre-recession levels, and at an all time high. Like rapidly rising unemployment in recent months, that is hardly cause for optimism the stimulus bill has produced any of its advertised benefits.

 

Continuing Claims for UI Benefits, by State or Federal Funding

Week Ending

State UI

Federal UI Extended Benefits (EB)

Federal UI “Temporary” Extended Benefits (EUC)

Totals

7/12/2008

3,164,970

1,777

127,438

3,294,185

7/19/2008

3,208,848

1,471

607,368

3,817,687

7/26/2008

3,166,763

1,831

747,707

3,916,301

8/2/2008

3,199,339

1,559

1,406,779

4,607,677

8/9/2008

3,160,610

1,671

1,081,755

4,244,036

8/16/2008

3,175,006

1,413

1,550,093

4,726,512

8/23/2008

3,097,585

1,556

1,160,151

4,259,292

8/30/2008

3,059,126

582

1,525,890

4,585,598

9/6/2008

3,040,859

1,472

1,116,863

4,159,194

9/13/2008

3,014,874

1,361

1,559,198

4,575,433

9/20/2008

3,018,976

1,557

1,140,558

4,161,091

9/27/2008

3,057,698

1,616

1,505,423

4,564,737

10/4/2008

3,073,515

1,883

1,173,367

4,248,765

10/11/2008

3,134,390

8,049

1,050,369

4,192,808

10/18/2008

3,233,118

14,084

836,629

4,083,831

10/25/2008

3,310,892

16,367

820,503

4,147,762

11/1/2008

3,460,633

17,895

772,645

4,251,173

11/8/2008

3,521,971

19,650

766,565

4,308,186

11/15/2008

3,782,040

22,125

777,393

4,581,558

11/22/2008

3,652,990

23,569

729,256

4,405,815

11/29/2008

4,493,526

23,300

994,188

5,511,014

12/6/2008

4,378,273

3,361

1,482,317

5,863,951

12/13/2008

4,594,820

1,671

1,567,930

6,164,421

12/20/2008

4,572,637

1,168

1,922,488

6,496,293

12/27/2008

5,317,388

1,640

1,666,412

6,985,440

1/3/2009

5,855,855

3,103

2,094,313

7,953,271

1/10/2009

5,651,117

12,472

1,766,009

7,429,598

1/17/2009

5,715,432

14,058

1,839,758

7,569,248

1/24/2009

5,806,901

17,296

1,805,007

7,629,204

1/31/2009

5,953,114

1,309

1,903,779

7,858,202

2/7/2009

5,972,146

2,710

1,847,439

7,822,295

2/14/2009

6,108,398

2,766

1,929,723

8,040,887

2/21/2009

6,231,080

3,862

2,068,413

8,303,355

2/28/2009

6,361,354

4,843

2,086,682

8,452,879

3/7/2009

6,357,336

6,642

2,094,811

8,458,789

3/14/2009

6,440,530

7,381

2,172,852

8,620,763

3/21/2009

6,388,761

10,728

2,251,784

8,651,273

3/28/2009

6,452,056

15,487

2,148,241

8,615,784

4/4/2009

6,329,420

20,665

2,364,774

8,714,859

4/11/2009

6,407,591

24,175

2,286,186

8,717,952

4/18/2009

6,299,278

40,142

2,279,478

8,618,898

4/25/2009

6,283,844

85,057

2,156,516

8,525,417

5/2/2009

6,191,544

88,882

2,268,367

8,548,793

5/9/2009

6,204,009

157,747

2,185,863

8,547,619

5/16/2009

6,156,855

146,800

2,347,218

8,650,873

5/23/2009

6,033,603

213,666

2,256,591

8,503,860

5/30/2009

6,144,346

258,629

2,359,537

8,762,512

Source: U.S. Department of Labor data. Data is weekly claims, defined as the number of people filing
a claim for unemployment benefits of each type in each week.

 

[1] http://www.dol.gov/opa/media/press/eta/ui/current.htm

 

[2] “June 18 (Bloomberg) — The number of Americans receiving claims for unemployment benefits dropped for the first time since January, adding to evidence the job market is starting to thaw. The number of people collecting unemployment insurance plunged by 148,000 in the week to June 6, the most since November 2001, to 6.69 million, the Labor Department said today in Washington. Initial claims rose by 3,000 to 608,000 in the week ended June 13, in line with forecasts.” http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601103&sid=aQE0Dk9GzFO8

[3] Week ending May 30, 2009, the last week for which data for both State and Federal continuing claims is available.[4] The Congressional Research Service has noted: “100% federal financing provided: 13 weeks of additional benefits during three temporary programs that spanned the periods 1958-1959, 1961-1962, and 1972-1973; 26 weeks of additional benefits during three temporary programs that spanned the periods 1975-1978, 1982-1983 and 2002-2004; 33 weeks of additional benefits during the period from 1991 to 1994 (limited to workers with no offsetting EB benefits, which at the time were financed 50% by states and 50% by the federal government); and 53 weeks of additional benefits starting in February, 2009, when ARRA provided temporary 100% federal financing to the EB program.” The exact number of weeks of Federal benefits any worker may receive depends on his or her work history, the State unemployment rate, and other conditions.

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SUBCOMMITTEE: Worker and Family Support    SUBCOMMITTEE: Full Committee