Unable to Find Work, Number of Americans on Benefits Hits Monthly High

A sign on a store in Manitou Springs, Colorado, gives a cheeky explanation for not being open, as of Aug. 30. (Courthouse News photo/Amanda Pampuro)

(CN) — New claims for jobless benefits continued their fall, but a total of 29.2 million Americans collected unemployment insurance as of Aug. 15, up 2 million from the previous week, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

States reported receiving 833,352 new applications for jobless benefits last week, while 9% of the county’s 146 million covered workers who meet age and work requirements received benefits. An additional 13.5 million Americans claimed Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits, and 1.3 million received Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, as of Aug. 15, the latest data available.

The number of out-of-work Americans receiving jobless benefits is the highest reported in a month, rivalling the population of Venezuela.

To date 6.13 million Americans have been infected with Covid-19 and 183,000 have died. Over the last week, roughly 40,100 people tested positive for the disease each day.

As unemployment continues to gradually diminish so too do the job prospects for those who remain out of work.

“There are substantial numbers of jobs that haven’t come back because people’s consumption patterns haven’t returned to normal,” said Joshua Gains, chief economist at the University of Toronto’s Creative Destruction Lab.

“There are a whole lot of things that people used to consume much more of: entertainment, travel, restaurants. Part of that’s due to social distancing restrictions, but the greater part of it is people just not feeling it’s safe to do that,” Gains added.

According to Morning Consult’s survey of 2,200 people published Sept. 1, 8.6% of people who worked in January were unemployed in August, down from 11% in July.

“Recent improvements in the demand for labor are creating two distinct employment paths as the economy recovers,” explained economist John Leer in a release. “On the one hand, a growing share of workers who are now back to work feels secure in their jobs and does not expect to suffer a loss of employment income over the next four weeks. On the other hand, unemployed workers are losing hope of returning to their prior jobs.” 

(Courthouse News photo/Amanda Pampuro)

The survey suggests jobs will be harder to find in the coming months for those laid off, particularly as companies make temporary furloughs permanent. 

The day after reopening the Mirage in Las Vegas, MGM Resorts permanently laid off 18,000 furloughed workers, about 25% of its workforce. Other major employers are downsizing, with Coca-Cola buying out 4,000 workers, Bed Bath & Beyond cutting 2,800 positions, and Ford reducing its workforce by 1,400 salaried jobs. 

“We still have a massive gap in the labor market. We’re still down nearly 13 million jobs compared to where we were before the virus hit,” said Heidi Shierholz, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute. 

With 11 million more unemployed people than available jobs, Shierholz said it’s a myth “that people can find a job if they want one, and that the $600 benefit was keeping people out of work. When 9 million jobs were added in May, June and July, the $600 was in place.” 

The $600 unemployment payment created by the CARES Act, short for Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security, expired at the end of July. After Congress failed to pass a second financial aid package before going on recess, President Donald Trump authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency to distribute $300 a week to Americans receiving unemployment benefits. As of Sept. 2, 45 states were enrolled in the program. 

At 18.6%, Hawaii reported the highest insured unemployment rate as of Aug. 15, followed by Nevada, California and Puerto Rico, all above 16%.

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