Labor Department reports 21.5 million still getting jobless aid
Hope for extended aid to the jobless rests on passage of one of two versions of the Heroes Act, both shepherded through the House by House speaker Nancy Pelosi and both shot down by Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Jose Luis Magana | AP

WASHINGTON—New claims for jobless benefits, from people thrown out of work by the coronavirus pandemic and actions to counter the community spread of the plague, totaled 21.51 million for the week ending on Oct. 17, the Labor Department reported.

That doesn’t count new claims for state or federal jobless benefits since then, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said. They totaled 1.11 million for the week that ended on Halloween and 1.098 million the week before that.

Aid to the jobless, or lack of it, is being blamed in part for the weak showing by congressional Democrats in the Nov. 3 election, due to failure to extend benefits originally approved in March.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and her majority twice passed the Heroes Act, extending the jobless aid and other measures to combat the coronavirus plague and the economic depression. The bill would have run through Jan. 31 or the end of the pandemic, whichever is later.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who won easy re-election in what was supposed to be a tough race in the deep-red state, pigeonholed the Heroes Act both times.

Bluegrass State voters, though, re-elected McConnell easily in what was supposed to be a tough race. Democrats, who supported the measure, gained only one U.S. Senate seat so far.

“Last week was the 33rd straight week total initial” jobless benefit “claims were far greater than the worst week of the Great Recession,” Economic Policy Institute Policy Director Heidi Shierholz commented.

“Most states provide 26 weeks of regular benefits, but this crisis has gone on much longer than that. That means many workers are exhausting their regular state unemployment insurance benefits. In the most recent data, continuing claims for regular state UI dropped by 538,000, from 7.8 million to 7.3 million.”

After they run through the state benefits, those jobless workers can seek extra federal pandemic unemployment benefits and get 13 more weeks’ worth at their states’ payment rates, she noted. But that program is expiring, too and the number of workers eligible to seek the aid is declining, even as the number of workers who can get regular state benefits continues to drop.

Passage of the Heroes Act, though Shierholz did not—this time—explicitly say so, would help those workers, too.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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