Federal data: One of five workers claiming jobless benefits
At least one of four workers are seeking jobless benefits with much higher percentages actually out of work. | Damian Dovarganes/AP

WASHINGTON—One of every five U.S. workers—to be precise, 20.37%–are still seeking or claiming state and federal jobless benefits, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows.

Those 29,768,326 jobless workers getting aid included 13.28 million who got regular state aid, and 14.47 million who got federal pandemic unemployment assistance, as of the end of August, BLS adds.

It doesn’t include the 1.527 million who have sought federal pandemic aid checks in the two weeks since then, or the 1.656 million who sought the state checks in those weeks, the bureau’s charts in its Sept. 17 report add. In just the week ending Sept. 12, another 1,448,758 workers sought those two types of aid, BLS said.

Many of those aid checks are about to run out. The $600 federal check program stopped taking new applications at the end of July. That program not only “topped” state jobless benefits, but also extended federal aid to “gig economy” workers, “independent contractors,” farmworkers, home health care workers, and other workers regular state jobless programs don’t cover.

And the state jobless benefit funds are running low, if they already haven’t run out of cash, as in Ohio. That shortage prompted the Democratic-run House to pass the $3 trillion Heroes Act (HR6800), including almost $1 trillion in aid to cash-starved state and local governments, in May. It also extended the $600 weekly federal jobless checks through Jan. 31.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., tanked HR6800, not even letting lawmakers debate or vote on it. He’s buried the federal jobless benefits with it. So the 50-member bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus unveiled its own $1.573 trillion aid package on Sept.15. Its frank aim: To push legislative leaders back to the bargaining table.

“Americans who’ve been displaced from their jobs due to COVID-19 [the coronavirus] need federal support to pay their bills and put food on the table for their families until they can get back to work. It’s important to provide such support without a corresponding economic incentive to remain unemployed,” the group explained.

That statement, while useful, also swallows the GOP right-wing’s propaganda, which economic studies disprove, showing federal jobless aid leads laid-off workers not to seek jobs.

The problem solvers’ plan features $450 weekly checks for the next two months, and $600 per week, or 100% of a worker’s prior weekly wage, whichever is less, from then through Jan. 31. It has an unspecified amount to keep dollar-less renters in their homes but is silent on aiding small landlords.

And the caucus, with 25 representatives from each party, would revive the $1,200 one-time checks, plus $500 per kid, Congress approved in the Cares Act, the $2 trillion coronavirus economic aid law, last March. But it was silent on the fact that thousands of people haven’t even gotten those checks, yet.

Tens of thousands more, notably in Florida, haven’t gotten regular jobless checks, either.

The problem solvers also touted their aid to state and local governments ($500 billion), schools ($130 billion), to states for election aid and mail-in balloting ($400 million), and more cash for business. But not all of their funds are new money. Their own chart shows 21% is actually unspent money from the Cares Act, including 26% of the state and local aid.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.