Jobless claims rise slightly with benefits cliff looming

New applications for jobless benefits rose slightly last week on a seasonally adjusted basis, but declined without seasonal adjustment, according to data released Thursday by the Labor Department.

In the week ending Aug. 21, initial claims for unemployment insurance totaled 353,000 after seasonal adjustments, rising 4,000 from the previous week’s revised total of 348,000. The four-week moving average of claims, however, declined by 11,500 to 366,500, the lowest level since March 14, 2020.

Without adjusting for the 15,864-claim decline the Labor Department attributed to seasonal factors, claims totaled 297,765 last week, falling by 11,699.

Even so, claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) rose for the second consecutive week, rising by 9,628 to 117,709. Claims for PUA, a temporary program created for the pandemic, are not seasonally adjusted.

“Claims continue to improve, albeit slowly, despite concerns about Delta,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at Glassdoor, on Twitter.

Roughly 12 million people were on some form of jobless aid as of Aug. 7, but that number is set to drop dramatically when pandemic unemployment programs expire on Labor Day. 

More than 7.5 million jobless workers are set to lose their benefits upon the expiration of PUA and additional weeks of unemployment insurance on Sept. 6. Millions more will lose a substantial portion of their unemployment support when the $300 weekly boost to benefits also expires after Labor Day.

The Biden administration has ruled out extended those benefits, urging states to tap aid from the March stimulus bill to bolster jobless aid if they deem it necessary. But progressive advocates have urged the White House to change course and seek an extension amid growing concerns about the delta variant.

“It is an act of policy negligence to allow a record number of workers to be completely cut off from unemployment benefits as the Delta variant surges, jeopardizing the economic progress we have made. The Biden administration and states must move with greater urgency to provide a safety net and aggressive reemployment assistance to those being summarily dropped from the unemployment rolls,” said Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank.

Tags Delta variant PUA Unemployment Unemployment benefits

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