1 of every 5 U.S. workers on jobless benefits, millions likely uncounted
Bill Londrigan, president of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO, stands with Nazari Taylor, Katie Adams, and Latrice Wilson, representatives of Unemployed Action and Center for Popular Democracy as part of a car caravan to proclaim that #MitchBetterHaveMyMoney and urge Congress to provide relief for all outside the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Aug. 6, 2020, in Louisville, Ky. | Brian Bohannon / AP Images for CPD - Action

WASHINGTON—More than 29 million people received jobless benefits in the week ending August 15, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported, some 2.2 million more than the week before.

That increase includes state-provided benefits and recipients of federal checks. But in the following week, ending August 22, actual new claims for state-only benefits rose from 825,761 to 833,732. And claims for the federal checks increased by more than 150,000, to 759,482. Overall, there were 1,593,214 new claims for jobless benefits.

But the eye-popping numbers were the overall total and the increase in workers getting jobless benefits.

BLS said 29,224,546 people received jobless benefits from all programs in the week ending in the middle of August. That’s one of every five U.S. workers. Private estimators of joblessness range up to 50 million or so.

That big figure rose by 2,195,835 in one week. It includes the state-only benefits, the federal benefits—the $600 weekly checks Congress approved in March–and several other smaller programs.

Who’s getting the aid during the coronavirus-caused depression, and for how long, is highly politicized.

GOP Oval Office occupant Donald Trump “has spent the entirety of the COVID-19 crisis downplaying the virus and distorting reality, jeopardizing the physical and economic health of Americans,” Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten told AFT’s virtual convention last month.

“At every turn, Trump chooses himself, his politics, and the rich, at everyone else’s expense. With record unemployment and 1.5 million more hungry children since the start of the pandemic, U.S. billionaires added $584 billion to their own wealth,” added Weingarten, a strong supporter of Trump’s foe, Democratic nominee Joe Biden, the former vice president.

Meanwhile, the higher total of recipients, which is still below calculations of private estimators, may not last long. And the recipients of only the $600 weekly checks are in particular jeopardy.

The entire huge increase in the number of people actually getting aid was in that group. Senate Republicans, marshaled by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., refuse to extend that program. It stopped taking new applicants July 31.

Congressional Democrats want to reinstate and extend the $600 weekly checks, which also top off state-paid benefits, through January 31 or the end of the coronavirus pandemic, whichever comes last. They put that extension in the $3 trillion Heroes Act, HR6800, the latest economic aid bill to counter the depression. Organized labor strongly supports and is lobbying for that measure.

The House passed HR6800 on a party-line vote more than 100 days ago. McConnell refuses to even let solons debate it, much less vote on it. He’s considering an alternative one-sixth to one-third as large, and with much-smaller checks. But 20 of the 53-person Senate Republican majority wants to send the jobless nothing more at all, says Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

“Working people are desperate for our leaders to put partisanship aside and do what is right for our health, our economy, and our country,” the AFL-CIO says in providing a toll-free number 1-866-832-1560 for people to call their senators. “The HEROES Act is a major step forward.”



Press Associates Union News Service provides national coverage of news affecting workers, including activism, politics, economics, legislation in Congress and actions by the White House, federal agencies and the courts that affect working people. Mark Gruenberg is Editor in chief and owner of Press Associates Union News Service, Washington, D.C.