Some 1.16 million more people sought jobless aid last week
A woman scans information at the Illinois Department of Employment Security's WorkNet Center in Arlington Heights. | Nam Y. Huh/AP

WASHINGTON—Some 1.165 million more people sought state or federal jobless benefits in the last week of January, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. But that wasn’t the biggest jobless news during the first full week of February.

That shocker came from another non-partisan source, the Congressional Budget Office. In so many words, it said high joblessness, due to the closures forced by the battle against the coronavirus pandemic, would continue, though declining, through 2031.

If everything stayed the same, including no further relief from Congress, but with anti-virus vaccines being pumped into more and more peoples’ arms, the fourth quarter that year is when joblessness would finally equal the 3.7% low it hit in February 2020, before the economic roof fell in, CBO said.

The gloomy CBO numbers provided yet more evidence that Congress and new Democratic President Joe Biden must inject a lot more economic aid into workers’ pockets, as Biden has proposed with his $1.9 trillion stimulus package.

In a sudden fit of fiscal austerity, congressional Republicans hate Biden’s plan. His package includes not just short-term moves to put money in people’s pockets–$1,400-per-adult payments to add to the $600 already OKd in December—but long-term aid, too.

It has $350 billion for state and local governments whose revenues tanked. That money would keep teachers, public health nurses, fire fighters, and jobless center counselors, among others, employed. It also has $130 billion to help schools arm themselves against the pandemic so students, teachers, and staff can return, and $160 billion more for vaccine production, testing, tracing, and transportation.

And Biden’s long-term aid includes extending federal jobless benefits, which top off state unemployment aid, at $400 per week, through the end of September, and a permanent increase in the federal minimum wage, from $7.25 hourly now to $15 by 2025.

The GOP, however, opposes the $1,400 checks, the minimum wage hike, the school dollars, and the state and local money. And it wants the federal jobless “topper” to be $300 and to stop by the end of June.

“We need to act and we need to act fast. It’s about who the hell we are as a country,” Biden told congressional Democrats on a zoom call. “He told us the Republicans’ $600 billion thing is totally inadequate,” Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., reported on a separate zoom call on job safety and health.

CBO cautioned a lot of factors could change the outlook, including further jobless aid, or further spread of the virus, which has killed 449,148 people from the official March 13 pandemic proclamation through Feb. 3. That’s 44,000 above how many U.S. service members died in World War II.

CBO’s numbers reflect the official joblessness rate and not the percentage of workers who are actually seeking or drawing unemployment aid. Those figures, in the BLS’s statement, include the 1,165,159 million people seeking jobless checks in the week ending Jan. 30, the 1,243,362 who applied for such aid the week before, and the 17,835,525 who are already getting unemployment aid.

Taken together, those three figures mean 20.244 million U.S. workers are seeking or getting unemployment aid due to layoffs and closures forced by the pandemic. That’s the equivalent to one of every seven U.S. workers, the BLS figures reveal.

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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.