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Data: Department of Labor; Chart: Axios Visuals

The number of people receiving unemployment benefits is falling but remains remarkably high three weeks before pandemic assistance programs are set to expire. More than 1 million people a week are still filing for initial jobless claims, including nearly 300,000 applying for pandemic assistance.

By the numbers: As of Nov. 14, 20.2 million Americans were receiving unemployment benefits of some kind, including more than 13.4 million on the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) programs that were created as part of the CARES Act and end on Dec. 26.

  • The 4.6 million people receiving benefits through PEUC have been unemployed for at least six months and economists estimate that only about 2.9 million will be eligible for the extended benefits program.
  • The rest and any potential new applicants will be out of luck unless Congress extends the programs.

Between the lines: The Department of Labor released the latest figures under the specter of a report from the Government Accountability Office that found its weekly releases "do not provide an accurate estimate of the total number of individuals actually claiming unemployment insurance."

  • GAO found that the DOL had "potentially both over-estimated and underestimated the total number of individuals actually claiming unemployment insurance."
  • That means not only are the numbers misleading but many who qualify for and should be receiving benefits still have not gotten them, even as the pandemic programs are set to end.

DOL agreed with the GAO findings, the office noted.

A closer look: Former DOL chief economist Heidi Shierholz estimates that as of late October, there were 25.7 million workers unemployed or otherwise out of work or who have lost wages.

  • 11.1 million were officially unemployed in the October jobs report.
  • 7 million have seen pay cuts.
  • 4.5 million have dropped out of the labor force.
  • 3.1 million have been miscalculated as employed.

The last word: "Good data is essential for policymaking in a crisis and we did not have that this time around, which is unacceptable," Shierholz, now director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute, tells Axios in an email.

  • "[K]nowing exactly what happened so that we can make the investments to ensure this will never happen again is crucial."

Go deeper

Guaranteed income programs are proliferating

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Cities around the country are starting up guaranteed income programs, which pay low-income residents around $300–$600 a month to help improve their lives.

Why it matters: If successful, backers hope these experiments — which bring the idea of guaranteed basic income from the progressive drawing board to reality — could set the stage for a day when unconditional cash stipends are a ubiquitous national safety net.

Top general: Calls to China were "perfectly within the duties" of job

Gen. Mark Milley. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley told the Associated Press on Friday that calls with his Chinese counterpart during the final months of Donald Trump's presidency were "perfectly within the duties and responsibilities" of his job.

Why it matters: In his first public comments on the calls that have prompted critics to question whether the general went too far, Milley maintained that such conversations are "routine," per AP.

The consumer's massive "war chest"

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

Economists expect the pace of economic growth to cool off now that government transfer payments like stimulus checks and emergency unemployment benefits are in the rearview mirror. But evidence suggests that the U.S. consumer is sitting on a lot of financial firepower that could be a key driver of growth in the quarters to come.

Why it matters: U.S. consumer spending is massive, representing about 70% of GDP.