The country has 10 million fewer jobs than it did a year ago.
A new Labor Department report released Thursday notes that a total of 1.2 million Americans filed jobless claims for the first time last week, when adjusted to include seasonal, self-employed, or gig workers.
Some Senate Democrats are urging President Joe Biden to provide those people with more financial support, above and beyond what would be provided by the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, in the form of recurring direct payments during the pandemic.
Some 745,000 of the claims were individuals newly applying for ordinary unemployment benefits, a figure higher than last week's and three times what it was at the same time last year, while the other 436,696 applied for special pandemic unemployment benefits available to gig economy workers and other independent contractors.
The chair of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, said in a House Financial Services Committee hearing Feb. 24 that, when factoring in those who have permanently left the work force and are not actively looking for work, as well as others economically impacted by the pandemic, "You get to an almost 10% unemployment rate."
The nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute noted that this number does not even come close to the true economic toll taken on American workers, many of whom were forced to drop to part-time status during the pandemic but did not lose employment totally, or were inaccurately classified as employed while still losing hours.
"Taking all those workers into account, a total of 25.5 million workers — 15.0% of the workforce — were directly hurt by the COVID downturn in January," reported the institute. "This proves essential the need for extensions to unemployment insurance to provide a necessary lifeline to those workers and their families."
The current $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill championed by Biden, which has been passed by the House but faces Republican-initiated delays in the Senate, would provide some assistance to unemployed workers. The bill would increase jobless benefits from $300 a week to $400 a week for qualifying individuals, and extend the benefits until Aug. 29.
But, experts argue, it alone is insufficient to combat the economic hardship those unemployed due to the pandemic are facing, and more direct assistance is necessary.
Stanley Litow, a professor at Duke and Columbia universities specializing in economic development, wrote Monday in Barron's Magazine, "We need to turn the economic crisis around. The Biden stimulus spending plan is only step one. ... There will likely need to be further stimulus spending in the hundreds of billion dollars. Whatever amount is approved, it must be directly tied to job growth and leveraged with private sector investments."
In an urgent moment, some senators are doing their best to provide such direct assistance to unemployed Americans.
CNBC reported Tuesday that Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-VT), along with 10 Democrats — Ron Wyden (OR), Sherrod Brown (OH), Elizabeth Warren (MA), Ed Markey (MA), Cory Booker (NJ), Michael Bennet (CO), Tammy Baldwin (WI), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Alex Padilla (CA), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) — announced Tuesday that they had written a letter encouraging Biden to include additional help for the unemployed in a recovery plan he plans to roll out after passing the American Rescue Plan.
According to CNBC, this additional help would take the form of greater jobless benefits and direct payments, although the senators did not specify how frequently they wanted the payments to occur.
In their letter, CNBC reported, the senators urged Biden to phase out unemployment benefits as conditions improve during the pandemic, rather than abruptly halting them.
"Families deserve certainty that they can put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads," they added. "Families should not be at the mercy of constantly-shifting legislative timelines and ad hoc solutions."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.