Some 17 percent of U.S. workers got jobless benefits last week
Since the pandemic began some 64 million have sought either state or federal unemployment benefits. | Rogelio V. Solis/AP

WASHINGTON—Some 25.29 million U.S. workers—17.26% of the work force—sought or got state or federal jobless benefits in the week ending Sept. 26, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. And that doesn’t count the 2.51 million who have sought them in the two weeks since. Just over half of that latter group sought aid in the week ending Oct. 10.

The total seeking jobless aid since the beginning of the pandemic is a mind-boggling 64 million.

The bleak numbers again highlight  the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on workers, as firms were forced to close to battle the plague. The Senate’s ruling Republicans resolutely ignore it, though 7.92 million people have tested positive so far, and 217,000 have died.

The Judiciary Committee’s GOP didn’t mention the pandemic or the jobless as they spent three days of hearings on GOP Oval Office occupant Donald Trump’s nomination of federal appellate judge Amy Coney Barrett to a vacant U.S. Supreme Court seat. The Republicans also didn’t protect themselves, or anyone else, by donning anti-viral masks.

Judiciary Committee Democrats, and union leaders, didn’t miss the boat.

“The Senate should not be spending time on this when we should be passing a Covid [coronavirus] relief bill” to help the jobless keep going, veteran Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said at the Barrett hearings’ start, Oct. 12. “The Senate is wearing blinders.”

And after the Democratic-run House tried again to get the Senate to move, passing a second Heroes Act to help the jobless, AFT President Randi Weingarten noted the contrast.

“This new bill is not just about helping schools,” she said then. “It also extends unemployment insurance and funds healthcare—a top concern for most Americans that would be gutted by the far-right Supreme Court the Senate seems so eager to achieve. It’s well past time to confront the grim reality on the ground.”

That reality on the ground also shows an increasing number of workers whose state jobless benefits ran out, as did their $600 weekly federal checks topping the state cash, turning to a third program that extends state benefits for another 13 weeks. That pandemic emergency unemployment compensation program helped 2.778 million workers in the week ending Sept. 26, out of the 25.29 million total. That’s 818,000 more than the week before.


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.