Updated Jul 23, 2020 - Economy & Business

More than 31 million Americans are still relying on unemployment

Protester holding a sign asking the state of Florida to fix its unemployment system on May 22, 2020 in Miami Beach, Florida

Unemployed hospitality and service workers protest in Miami Beach, Fla. in May. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

More than 31 million Americans are collecting unemployment benefits of some form — a slight decline — while roughly 2.3 million filed new applications to receive them last week, a rise from last week's number, the Labor Department said Thursday.

Why it matters: Enhanced unemployment benefits — an extra $600 per week — authorized under the coronavirus stimulus bill are set to expire in coming days, leaving millions of Americans with a smaller financial cushion as cases spike and businesses are forced to close again amid the worst economic downturn of our lifetime.

By the numbers: There were 1.4 million Americans who applied for traditional unemployment benefits — the first time the figure has risen from the prior week after consistently declining for 15 straight weeks.

  • Another 975,000 were first-time applicants to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which was established to provide unemployment benefits to gig workers and the self-employed.
  • Worth noting: Not accounting for seasonal factors, which can dwarf data as the economy faces an unprecedented time, the traditional unemployment applicants did fall from the prior week.

Between the lines: All in all, 31.8 million people are on the rolls of unemployment.

  • The Labor Department said 16.2 million people are receiving traditional benefits — a decline of 1.1 million from the prior week, but still more than double the pre-pandemic record set in June 2009.
  • Plus, over 15 million are receiving benefits through other unemployment programs, including PUA.

The state of play: The number of jobless Americans continuing to receive traditional unemployment has steadily dropped from its peak at 25 million in early May, but remains devastatingly high.

  • Consistent drops in this figure are an indication that a strong enough wave of Americans are falling off the unemployment rolls — and possibly returning to work.

The bottom line: The expanded benefits are a big reason that incomes have been buoyed amid the worst bout of unemployment in U.S. history — as are the one-time stimulus checks.

  • Economists warn of a one-two punch looming if enhanced benefits evaporate: Millions of Americans will be left with a smaller cash cushion, plus worse job prospects as a pummeled economy may already be backsliding.
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