Over 31 Million Americans Are Now Unemployed

According to data released today by the U.S. Department of Labour, about 500,000 more Americans went on unemployment between July 11 and 18, pushing that number above 31 million in total. In economics, it’s sometimes the case that big number equals good. This is not such a case.

Half a million is a grim improvement over the huge unemployment filing numbers the U.S. saw during the initial wave of economic freefall created by covid-19, but it’s troubling that the bad number is going up at all this many month into the pandemic. Unemployment benefits are, of course, something of a lagging indicator, insofar as some layoffs or furloughs may transition to full-on job loss, and many states are still catching up on a historic number of backlogged claims.

As a result of these extenuating factors, there does not seem to be a strong correlation between states that saw an uptick of unemployment claims with those also hitting covid spikes. (Virginia, Nevada, and Missouri all had increases in cases and UE claims during part of July; Massachusetts and New Jersey, on the other hand, contributed to the rising claims while their covid numbers remained relatively stable.)

While advance numbers are pointing to a dip of about 220,000 claims for the first week of August, those numbers are subject to change, and the overall insured unemployment rate still sits at about 11%. What is an “insured unemployment rate,” you might rightly ask? It’s literally just the jobless folks on unemployment, meaning it doesn’t account for people who have left the workforce entirely, cannot receive benefits, or have had those benefits run out. The real numbers — which are significantly harder to track accurately — are undoubtedly much worse.

So: Employment numbers are still in the toilet; hundreds of Americans are dying every day of a pandemic that just about every other world power has done a better job of curtailing; payroll protection money largely served to enrich big corporations rather than float small businesses; additional personal benefits have run out in every state; and Republican leadership in the Senate is laughing about it. The aristocrats!