Sep 21, 2020 - Economy

Unemployment concerns are growing

Data: U.S. Department of Labor; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios
Data: U.S. Department of Labor; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Initial unemployment insurance filings fell below 800,000 for the first time since March last week, but the total number of Americans receiving unemployment benefits remained at nearly 30 million, data from the Department of Labor shows.

What's happening: While fewer people are filing initial jobless claims, there remains a staggering number of unemployment insurance recipients and the data are growing increasingly unreliable.

  • Multiple states' data shows the number of people receiving benefits to be significantly different than federal government figures, with the discrepancy totaling millions.

The big picture: The U.S. unemployment system's infrastructure looks to be crumbling beneath the weight of the continued inflow of jobless claims resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

Driving the news: California announced it will halt all unemployment claim filings for the next two weeks while it attempts to clear a backlog of cases that have not been processed, following a report that found its unemployment benefits system will need a complete overhaul.

  • The system has amassed a trove of unprocessed claims that has reached nearly 600,000 and is growing by 10,000 a day.
  • Authorities say it will take several more months to be cleared.

One level deeper: California's announcement is especially important given that it is not only the largest state in the U.S., but also has contributed substantially to the flow of unemployment claims in recent weeks.

  • Traditional continued unemployment claims fell by 256,000 and claims for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program dropped by 592,000 for the week ended Sept. 5.
  • California's numbers have been significantly outside the norms for other states and its own previous reports in recent weeks.
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