The government is setting hard-hit Americans up for disaster by forcing them to pay back unemployment benefits

an unemployed worker holds a sign that says  I Am angry as hell Fix Unemployment Now,'
Odirus Charles holds a sign that reads, ‘ I Am angry as hell Fix Unemployment Now,’ as he joins others in a protest on May 22, 2020 in Miami Beach, Florida.

  • Americans have been forced to figure out how to pay their bills as unemployment insurance ends.
  • Now, states are demanding that people pay back their unemployment benefits.
  • It’s creating a situation where people are wondering how they’re supposed to live.
  • Eoin Higgins is a journalist in New England and a contributing opinion writer for Insider.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Brandel Cook lost his job during the pandemic and had to go on unemployment. Now, the state of Missouri wants him to repay $4,500.

“They want me to repay $900 for the state benefits, that was $67 weekly [$75 pretax], and the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation of $3,600, the $300 a week,” Cook told me in a recent interview.

Cook’s tale of woe is one of many. For months now, people have complained of unfair demands for repayment on their unemployment benefits as the country has tried to put the COVID pandemic behind it.

In February, TikTok user thatgirlkelsie_98 went viral for a video in which she expressed disbelief over a demand from the state to recoup $4,620 of the $10,000 they paid her in benefits. As she put it, “how is anybody ever supposed to fucking live” in a system that makes debt a way of life, even during a global pandemic?

It’s not just the human cost of the repayment demands that are causing instability and pain around the country. The US economy is poised to suffer lower consumer demand, a direct result of the unpredictability of the virus and the cash crunch from premature shutting down of unemployment benefits.

As the delta variant continues to surge across the nation and the government turns to more strict mandates to get the pandemic under control, many working Americans are left with uncertainty and worry over their financial situation. Telling them they have to pay back some of the benefits that kept them afloat during the pandemic is just making things worse. I’ve talked to people facing these repayment demands – here’s what they told me.

Less money, more problems

Many state unemployment systems use outdated technology and were overwhelmed by the sudden flood of unemployment claims made when the pandemic broke out. Now, months or a year later, these same flawed systems have gone back and flagged some of these payments as supposedly incorrect or that the application was accepted “in error.”

According to a July report from the federal Government Accountability Office, $12.9 billion worth of overpayments went out from the Treasury during the pandemic – just 2% of all unemployment funds sent out during that time. According to the same report, only a small fraction of that overpayment is attributable to fraud, a large majority was simple accounting or clerical error.

But instead of erring on the side of going after the actual fraudsters and reasoning “well that may have been too generous, but it was helpful for the economy,” the government is demanding that workers – many of them still in precarious financial positions – pay the money back.

Cook, who lives in the city of Neosho, Missouri, was working as a bartender at a local movie theater when COVID swept through the state. The pandemic put him out of a job, but state and federal unemployment got him through the worst of it. But on March 27, 2021, Missouri determined Cook was actually ineligible for the benefits he had received due to limited availability.

“In the Overpayment Determination, they said that this is the result of my Unintentional Error or Omission,” Cook said. “I honestly have no idea how this could have happened and I’m sure I filled out the weekly application form correctly.”

Cook added that he wasn’t contacted over the actual error, but he did receive a email at 2 a.m. telling him he had new correspondence from the unemployment office.

He has until September 23 to appeal.

But appeals take a while, as Jennifer Reyes, a restaurant worker in Ohio who is dealing with her state’s attempts to recoup unemployment benefits it paid her, found out. Reyes was only out of work briefly – from March 16 to May 26 of 2020 – but the benefits she was provided to survive were still essential. Now, she’s being told to pay it all back.

“They claimed I owed 100% of my UI back which is about $5,000,” she told me. “My job was actually shut down and I’m high risk.”

After calling repeatedly, Jennifer got a link to appeal online, which is now being processed. She hopes it goes her way, but said it’s a “pain” and that she believes that’s on purpose.

“I think the state is just hoping enough people freak out about all the warnings about garnishments and just pay it back so the state can recoup some money,” Jennifer said. “It’s bullshit.”

An unfair demand

Unemployment insurance has been a constant political issue since the beginning of the pandemic. The life-saving financial aid helped keep people afloat as COVID spread around the country, but as the economy began to reopen, some employers and conservative politicians have called for doing away with the benefits in order to force Americans back to work.

“The extra unemployment benefits need to be immediately ended,” James Gop, owner of catering business Heirloom Fire, posted on Facebook in June. “Businesses are suffering badly.”

While Gop – a farm-to-table innovator who has appeared with Martha Stewart and on Netflix’s “The World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals” – and other business owners may find the idea of people continuing to utilize benefits abhorrent, the life-saving aid has helped keep the economy going, and the absence of the benefits has made their importance even more clear.

As Insider reported in August:

“The impact of cutting off those benefits was a 20% reduction in weekly spending for individuals – which comes to about $145 every week. And those jobless workers also saw a big hit to their wallets, losing $278 in weekly benefits, with weekly earnings only up $14.

All told, the researchers found that, for every dollar in benefits, spending went down by $0.52 (and each dollar lost only saw an accompanying $0.07 rise in new income). Across the states, that translated to a $270 million increase in earnings – but consumer spending fell by $2 billion.”

But the economic pain isn’t isolated to the cuts in benefits. Jobs numbers for August fell well short of expectations, raising concerns about the economy’s recovery as the delta variant rages around the country and a small, but statistically important, minority of Americans refuse vaccines.

Even as the pandemic continued to devastate regions of the country, the federal government’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, already cut from $600 to $300 a week, expired on September 5. Without aid, without job prospects, and with states demanding repayment for benefits already disbursed, workers are set up to be even worse off this year than they were at the height of the pandemic.

Reyes, the server in Ohio, told me that the drop in aid has had a noticeable effect on business at the restaurant she works at.

“Now that the enhanced unemployment is done we have had a significant drop in business,” Reyes said. “I mean, servers are making at least $100 less a shift than we normally do. And we no longer have waits on Fridays and a very short wait on Saturday. We are fully staffed, but people aren’t coming in.”

Rather than demand Americans repay the benefits that kept them whole during a once-in-a-lifetime crisis, states should be demanding the federal government ensure that the pandemic assistance that expired is restarted. The human cost of cutting the benefits off and forcing Americans to pay them back might not be enough to move the needle – but the economic cost might.

Read the original article on Business Insider

US jobless claims drop to pandemic low of 310,000 as federal unemployment benefits expire

Unemployment filing coronavirus
Ashley Testerman helps John Jolley resolve his unemployment claim at an unemployment event in Tulsa, Oklahoma on July 15, 2020.

  • Weekly jobless claims fell to 310,000 last week, setting a fresh pandemic-era low.
  • Economists expected claims to slide to 335,000. The print marked a second straight weekly decline.
  • Continuing claims fell to 2.78 million for the week that ended August 28, landing just above estimates.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Filings for unemployment insurance fell last week as the government’s boost to UI payments expired nationwide.

Initial jobless claims totaled 310,000 last week, the Labor Department announced Thursday. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg expected filings to decline to 335,000. The print marks a second straight decline and places claims at a new pandemic-era low.

The previous week’s count was revised to 345,000 from 340,000.

Continuing claims, which count Americans receiving unemployment benefits, declined to 2.78 million for the week that ended August 28. That landed above the forecast of 2.73 million claims and marked a sixth straight pandemic low.

The latest claims data covers the last week before enhanced unemployment benefits lapsed. The federal government had been supplementing states’ UI payments with a $300-per-week benefit since the American Rescue Plan was approved in March. That boost expired on September 6, leaving about 7.5 million jobless Americans with less support as virus cases soared higher.

The pullback in UI support comes as claims sit at historically elevated levels. Jobless claims are still well above their pre-pandemic trend of 200,000, and continuing claims need to drop by another million to return to their past average.

The cutoff didn’t affect every state at once. Twenty-six state governments had already pared back the supplement prematurely, with many arguing the move would push more Americans into the workforce. Yet research suggests the early pullback in UI support harmed local economies more than it helped. Analysis from The Wall Street Journal found “roughly similar job growth” in states that did and did not end benefits early. And Homebase researchers found that employment actually fell in states that slashed UI ahead of schedule.

The Biden administration has said that states can continue to provide boosted UI payments on their own with leftover funding from the American Rescue Plan. Yet no state has committed to taking such action, Insider’s Juliana Kaplan and Joseph Zeballos-Roig reported, and it’s unlikely Democrats can pass another salvo of enhanced UI.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Ted Cruz told the millions of Americans who lost their unemployment benefits on Labor Day to ‘um, get a job?’

Ted Cruz
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, asks a question during the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Tuesday, March 9, 2021.

  • Cruz tweeted “Um, get a job?” in response to news that unemployment benefits expired for jobless Americans.
  • Twitter users criticized Cruz for his insensitivity and his lack of understanding of the situation.
  • It is estimated that more than 7.5 million Americans were affected when three federal pandemic-aid programs ended.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz reacted to news that millions of Americans lost their unemployment benefits on Labor Day by telling those who are out of work to “get a job.”

Cruz tweeted on Monday night, sharing an article by ABC News which carried the headline “Jobless Americans have few options as benefits expire.”

“Um, get a job?” Cruz wrote in his tweet. “There are millions of vacancies, and small businesses across the Nation are desperate for workers.”

Three federal unemployment-aid programs ended as of Monday, September 6. The programs are the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, and a program that provided people with $300 a week in Federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation.

The programs were scheduled to end by Labor Day.

The ABC article that Cruz retweeted and critiqued reported that these very relief efforts allowed Americans who lost jobs during the pandemic to afford essentials like food, gas, and rent, and enabled them to pay their bills.

“The end of the pandemic unemployment benefits will be an abrupt jolt to millions of Americans who won’t find a job in time for this arbitrary end to assistance,” said Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at think tank The Century Foundation, to ABC.

It is estimated that at least 7.5 million Americans lost their unemployment benefits over the weekend, per reporting from Insider’s Juliana Kaplan and Joseph Zeballos-Roig.

Many Americans have been left in the lurch with their benefits expiring, per CNN. The news outlet interviewed a Detroit optician named April Stokes, who said she received $1,152 in unemployment benefits per week, but saw her “lifeline” evaporate over the weekend. Stokes has had difficulty finding a job in her area that will enable her to work around her children’s schedules.

“The government is not leaving us with any options,” Stokes told CNN. “There are a lot of single moms out here that are really panicking right now and don’t know what to do.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

3 federal pandemic aid programs have expired as of Labor Day, severing millions of Americans from unemployment benefits

Shopping after pandemic
  • Three federal pandemic benefits programs have ended as of Labor day.
  • They are the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, and a weekly $300 in Federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation.
  • One think tank estimated that the programs’ ending affects 7.5 million unemployed Americans.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As of Labor Day, three federal unemployment aid programs have come to a close, cutting off pandemic benefits for millions of people in the US.

The programs – Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), and an additional weekly $300 in Federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (FPEUC) – have all ended as of Monday.

The ability to apply for benefits in some states ended on Saturday due to a difference in what day states end their claim weeks.

The left-leaning think tank the Century Foundation has estimated that 7.5 million people would be left without benefits, as Insider’s Juliana Kaplan and Joseph Zeballos-Roig reported.

PUA in particular created a new class of beneficiaries, allowing workers such as gig workers and freelancers to qualify.

Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at the Century Foundation, previously told Insider that the ending of the programs has come too early, saying President Joe Biden’s administration should have waited until unemployment was closer to pre-pandemic levels.

“It’s going to take consumer spending out of the economy, it’s going to slow the rate of GDP growth,” he said.

Republicans on the House Committee on Ways and Means have argued that ongoing benefits have made it difficult for recruiters to compete with the amounts offered.

Twenty-five mostly GOP-led states voluntarily opted to cut the benefits in March, affecting 4.1 million unemployed workers, Time reported.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Some companies in Florida and Alabama are still struggling to find staff months after the states cut enhanced COVID-19 unemployment benefits

A help wanted sign that reads "Now Hiring!" in the window of the PetSmart location along 5th Street Highway in Muhlenberg Twp. Thursday morning August 26, 2021.
Enhanced jobless benefits have been cut nationwide as of Monday.

  • Some companies are struggling to hire staff months after their states cut enhanced jobless benefits.
  • One Florida restaurant said it hired high school students and got staff to work more overtime.
  • Workers say they want higher pay, better benefits, and a different work environment.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Some companies in states that cut enhanced unemployment benefits months ago say they’re still struggling to find workers.

The Ledger reported that some companies in Polk County, central Florida, were struggling to find enough workers more than two months after the state cut the extra benefits. Insider has reported on a similar situation in Alabama, which cut enhanced benefits in mid-June.

The enhanced federal unemployment benefits, which were introduced in March last year at the outset of the pandemic, expire across the US on Monday. The added benefits include a $300 weekly supplemental payment to unemployed individuals through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program (FPUC).

Some states have already cut the enhanced benefits. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis cancelled FPUC on June 26, prompting a lawsuit from residents who said that without the benefits they couldn’t afford housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and childcare.

Some business owners hope that cutting the enhanced benefits will mark the beginning of the end for a crippling labor shortage that has caused companies to slash opening hours, limit operations, and raise prices.

It’s too early to see what impact the end of supplemental benefits has had on Florida’s employment rate, but business leaders and owners told The Ledger that the labor shortage continued to hurt them.

“Anywhere you go out into the community, you see help wanted signs and you see businesses doing all types of strategies to encourage people to apply and interview,” Cory Skeates, CEO of the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce, told the publication.

Ray Sykes, who owns the Italian restaurant Arabellas in Winter Haven, told The Ledger he was still struggling to find staff as more and more people want to dine out. Now the restaurant has cut the number of reservations it takes on weekends and service is slower, Sykes said. He said he had to hire workers still at high school who have little to no experience. Current staff are working overtime, and managers are having to work six days a week, he said.

In late August, at least three Chick-fil-A restaurants in Alabama closed their dining rooms because they didn’t have enough employees to keep them open, and two more started shutting early “due to extremely short staffing.” Some applicants didn’t show up to interviews, or accepted roles “only to resign within their first couple weeks,” one of the restaurants said.

Peter Ricci, head of Florida Atlantic University’s hospitality and tourism management program, previously told Insider that blaming the tight labor market on supplemental unemployment benefits was a short-term view.

He said that it actually stemmed from issues “that have been laying low for years.” Workers say that low pay, bad benefits, and a lack of flexible hours are causing them to quit their jobs in droves. One former bartender told Insider he pivoted to a career in tech so he could work more sociable hours and spend more time with his wife.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Meet a woman who taught art to retirees for over 20 years and worries for the future as her unemployment aid expires: ‘The pandemic is absolutely not over and kids aren’t vaccinated’

Kelly Kilmer making art
Kelly Kilmer making art.

  • On Labor Day, millions of gig workers will lose all the unemployment benefits they had during the pandemic.
  • One of them is Kelly Kilmer, who’s been a traveling art teacher for over 20 years.
  • “It’s what I do. It’s what I love. I’ve worked really hard at doing it and it’s just frustrating not to be able to be in a room with my people,” she says.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Kelly Kilmer loves teaching art. Since 1998, she’s traveled the country to teach her workshops to people across the US.

She said she didn’t make a “ton” of money with this career, but it was always enough to get by. It’s something she loves, that she’s been doing for more than two decades.

When the pandemic hit, she had been out teaching the first weekend in March, and had courses and workshops booked out for months. But Kilmer postponed her classes because of the outbreak. Mandatory stay-at-home orders turned those postponements into cancellations. At home, it was her and her husband (and her son came to stay for a bit).

She applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), a new federal program that made self-employed workers and gig workers eligible for benefits, as soon as it was introduced. That’s one of the federal programs that will come to an end on Labor Day. On September 6, an estimated 7.5 million Americans will lose PUA benefits completely, according to a projection from the left-leaning Century Foundation, including Kilmer.

Many industries have been devastated by the pandemic, but the arts – especially those that take place in person – are still very much at the mercy of the virus, while its workers scramble to either move online, pivot, or wait out what was supposed to be a temporary situation. A survey from Americans for the Arts found that 95% of respondents lost creative income, and 63% had experienced unemployment in 2020.

Teaching art was never a big business for Kilmer, but it brought her joy to teach classes full of mostly retired women in their 60s and older. She’s been taking online art and business classes to try and expand her teaching, and is learning about applying for grants.

“I am still very nervous because I’ve never had to rely on internet-only workshops. I’ve taught in person for 24 years now,” Kilmer wrote in an email to Insider.

The pandemic means that world could be over for good.

Here’s Kilmer’s story in her own words, edited for brevity.

I’ve been on unemployment, and that’s thankfully been enough to pay rent and bills and basically keep a roof over our head and put food on the table – but not much more.

I’ve just been trying to figure out what to do – how to change my business and, do it in a different way.

I was hoping by now that I would be back to teaching in-person classes. Basically none of the places where I teach in California are having in-person classes. Nobody feels safe.

People have said, “Well, why can’t you do online workshops?” but that’s a whole other thing in terms of accessibility. My internet speed until just recently was one-and-a-half megabytes. It was basically slower than dial-up, which to do like a Zoom class made it impossible. Not to mention the fact that I don’t really have the equipment and things like that. Plus, doing it online is very different than teaching in person.

I’ve taught in-person workshops for 23, 24 years now. It’s what I do. It’s what I love. I’ve worked really hard at doing it and it’s just frustrating not to be able to be in a room with my people.

It’s just frustrating that they have an arbitrary date of September 4 with variants and Delta and everything going on.

I’ve supported my family doing this for more than 20 years and I don’t make a ton of money doing what I do, but I make enough money. And it was always enough money to be able to pay all the bills on time and to keep the rent going and food on the table, etc.

But you’re always about one step away. The “check engine” light came on in my car the other day. So now I don’t know what I’m going to do, you know? So it’s just basically being able to survive and live.

I’m worried with the program ending.

I’m worried about the fact that the safety net programs are going away – not just for me, but for a lot of people. Where I live, there’s already homeless people, there’s people who are in tents on the streets everywhere you go. I think it’s going to get worse and it’s really upsetting to see that that people are being forced out of their homes with the eviction moratorium ending.

I’m worried about what’s going to happen, that people just are not caring about other people like they should be caring.

[Editor’s note: The Biden administration’s most recent eviction moratorium was struck down by the Supreme Court. Goldman Sachs estimates that landlords will evict 750,000 households by year end.]

I don’t want to be on unemployment. I want to be teaching my classes.

I get $167 a week on unemployment, plus this $300, the “extra.” So I get about $1,800 a month and I live in Los Angeles; $1,800 a month doesn’t go that far.

I want to be surrounded with the people that I’ve been teaching and working with for all these years and doing what I love to do on a weekly basis.

My classes, sometimes they’re in Florida, sometimes they’re in Maryland, they’re all over the country. Most of the people, they’re older women who just don’t feel comfortable and safe taking workshops right now, and I don’t blame them. I just wish people had more empathy about everything right now. I think that if that was the case, we would be in a much different situation than we’re in right now.

I’m scared. I’m really worried about what’s going to happen just nationwide, not just California, but everywhere. And I wish that people would step up and realize that the pandemic is absolutely not over and kids aren’t vaccinated, not to mention the people who just won’t get the vaccine for whatever reason.

My husband and I did get one of the $600 [stimulus checks California has been sending with American Rescue Plan funds], that helped a lot.

The American people need help and that assistance should continue until after the pandemic is over.

If you want to keep people safe, if you don’t want any more deaths, if you don’t want people homeless or hungry and on the street or even in the streets, they have to step up and do something.

I’m concerned, too, because as a self-employed gig worker, this is the first time I have a safety net because of the PUA program. And I know I’m not alone.

I know that I have several actor and musician friends who can’t work right now for just various reasons. It’s mostly just because of COVID.

There is talk of a WPA-style bill (CERA, Creative Economy Revitalization Act) being introduced for artists.

During the beginning of the pandemic, people stuck at home turned to art and artists. Art is essential. We may not be essential workers but we are essential. A WPA-style program that would help to keep many of us afloat and give us work in our own communities would benefit society as a whole.

[Editor’s note: Kilmer was referring to the Works Progress Administration, a 1930s-era New Deal program that sponsored the arts in an effort to employ Americans.]

I think [the economy] is going to get worse, and we need to put into place some sort of additional safety programs for the vast number of gig workers, ’cause there’s a lot of gig workers out there right now. And they’re getting people talking about them more, but I don’t think they’re talking about them enough and they’re not realizing these people work really hard. I don’t just mean artists. I mean the Uber drivers and the grocery store people who are bringing your food, because you don’t want to go to the grocery store.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The August jobs report shows the pandemic is keeping workers home – not enhanced unemployment benefits

an unemployed worker holds a sign that says  I Am angry as hell Fix Unemployment Now,'
Odirus Charles holds a sign that reads, ‘ I Am angry as hell Fix Unemployment Now,’ as he joins others in a protest on May 22, 2020 in Miami Beach, Florida.

  • The August jobs report showed dismal job growth, marking a bump in America’s economic recovery.
  • The low number of jobs added shows that the pandemic is still strangling the economy.
  • It also counters the narrative that enhanced benefits were keeping workers at home.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The number of jobs added in August came in dismally below economists’ expectations, showing yet another bump in the road for America’s economic recovery.

August’s data also shows that the pandemic’s newest surge – and not enhanced unemployment benefits – is responsible for workers staying home.

America added just 235,000 nonfarm payrolls last month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s monthly report. Economists were anticipating an addition of 733,000 payrolls, Insider’s Ben Winck reports. It’s a huge slowdown from the 1.1 million jobs added in July.

In August, 5.6 million people said that they were unable to work due to the pandemic. That’s an increase from July, where 5.2 million cited the pandemic as keeping them from work. And 1.5 million people said that the pandemic prevented them from looking for work – a number that did not drop from July.

That shows the ongoing pandemic, and especially the rise of the more-contagious Delta variant, is still heavily weighing on the jobs market.

Notably, August’s jobs report likely captures our fullest picture yet of the impact that ending enhanced unemployment benefits had on workers. At least 25 states opted out of federal benefits early after similarly weak jobs reports this spring, with governors pointing to beefed-up benefits as the reason that people weren’t returning.

The stated goal for ending benefits was simple: To get people back to work.

“Alabama is giving the federal government our 30-day notice that it’s time to get back to work,” Gov. Kay Ivey said in a press release announcing that federal benefits would end June 19.

Benefits in those states all came to an end by mid-July; August’s report is based on the state of the labor market from August 8 to 14. The weak job growth numbers coming after the end of expanded benefits in half the states suggest that those cuts aren’t causing a surge in hiring, or at least not enough of a surge to overcome the Delta slowdown.

Research has found that states that ended benefits early lost $2 billion in consumer spending, which likely didn’t help the situation either.

Leisure and hospitality, a primarily in-person and low-wage industry that was hit particularly hard by the pandemic and shutdowns last year, had previously been leading the way in recovery. The sector added nearly 400,000 jobs in July, but in August, employment in leisure and hospitality was unchanged, adding a net zero jobs during the month – and food services and drinking places shed 42,000 jobs.

With enhanced benefits ending, those plentiful low-wage service jobs that some unemployed workers were being nudged towards – and where anecdotal labor shortages abounded – were stalling out. At the same time, more people were out of work due to the pandemic.

“Delta seems to be the overwhelming factor affecting the labor market right now,” Daniel Zhao, a senior economist at Glassdoor, told Insider. “It’s entirely possible that the withdrawal of enhanced unemployment benefits led to a small increase in payrolls, but it’s just being completely overwhelmed by Delta.”

The dismal August numbers come as all federal unemployment benefits are set to end on Monday. The left-leaning Century Foundation estimates 7.5 million workers will lose benefits completely, and researchers project that benefits ending could lead to an $8 billion drop in spending. Research has also found ending benefits early had little effect on employment.

Some advocates and politicians have argued it’s too early to end the benefits, but the Biden administration has already affirmed they’ll come to a close on Monday. The administration did say that states could step in to continue to provide benefits with American Rescue Plan funds. So far, none of them are.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Meet the woman bringing dozens of unemployed people before senators to shame them into extending unemployment. ‘Americans are not lazy. They’re struggling.’

unemployment insurance weekly benefits stimulus checks recession job losses coronavirus pandemic
Carlos Ponce joins a protest in in Miami Springs, Florida, asking senators to continue unemployment benefits past July 31, 2020.

  • Over the last 18 months, unemployed Americans have continually faced their benefits being cut off.
  • Federal benefits are set to come to a permanent end come Labor Day, despite calls to extend.
  • Insider spoke to Stephanie Freed, the executive director of ExtendPUA.org, about the last year of unemployment advocacy.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Stephanie Freed is worried: In less than a week, federal unemployment benefits will end, leaving millions of Americans at the edge of a fiscal cliff with no reliable income in sight.

In early 2020, Freed was working as a freelance lighting designer in the live events and entertainment industry. When the pandemic hit, she watched her jobs get postponed – and they didn’t come back.

“Our industry was just like in a huge panic, cause that was what was keeping people alive,” Freed said.

At the onset of the pandemic, jobless workers like Freed received an additional $600 a week in unemployment, thanks to Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), a federal program that expanded who was eligible for unemployment benefits. It brought gig workers and freelancers into the fold – and, according to an analysis from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, made up the greatest share of federal UI distributed in 2020.

But that supplement was set to expire at the end of July 2020. Freed set out to co-found the advocacy group ExtendPUA.org, which is still fighting for the extension and expansion of unemployed benefits a year later. Freed serves as executive director, chief strategist, and communications director. According to its website, the group has an “engaged base of over 25,000 people.”

Here’s Freed’s story in her own words, edited for brevity.

I’d never been in an advocacy kind of role.

We started just reaching out to Senate offices and setting meetings. We had 40 meetings with senators in the fall, bringing constituents to tell them about their experience with the unemployment system, their experience with the pandemic, and this loss of the $600.

Stephanie Freed speaking at an Extend PUA action
Stephanie Freed speaking at an Extend PUA action.

It was pretty incredible, in a not good way, just watching how often we had to keep reinvigorating the fight. People lost the $600. Then, by the end of the year, we were going to lose everything, and that got extended at the very last minute.

And then in March we were going to end it all again. And then that got extended at the last minute.

It’s just been like this rolling cliff that no one’s ever gotten to stop and get to breathe and just survive the pandemic. Everyone who’s lost their jobs – millions of people – have just been waiting and being pushed off of cliffs.

It became untenable to do this 24/7, because I needed to also start finding a way to survive.

I have gotten a job, which is great. I’m lucky to be in that position, and so many people are not that lucky. That’s why we have to continue this work – because if these expirations happen, 7.5 million people are going to lose all of their assistance. I’m in my thirties. I have a resume of marketable skills. It took me 15 months to find a job.

People are unable to get jobs because they have childcare responsibilities. But also we’re just hearing from people who keep applying and keep applying and don’t hear back, or they do hear back and they’re either told they’re under-qualified or overqualified.

People are having to pivot out of their own industries to try to just survive.

At the beginning, it was a coping mechanism.

Being unemployed and not knowing when work was going to come back and how exactly you survive without work for over a year, that’s an overwhelming feeling. Extend PUA for me personally became very much a coping mechanism. Whether that was always healthy or not as healthy, because I was going 24/7, it remains to be seen.

It has been disappointing to see the lack of appetite for these last extensions. There are not a lot of advocacy groups, less even pushing for extensions because they are saying there is no political appetite for them.

We aren’t an established nonprofit or anything like that. And I feel like a lot of those groups are more easily swayed by what the government is willing to do, instead of swaying the government.

People are like, ‘Well, just get a job!’

I think people who are saying that just have no idea what is happening actually, because those jobs are often not well paid or not full-time. You could need four of those jobs to make enough money to send your kids to daycare.

And then the schools are not being consistent. With Delta surging, there’s not a lot of confidence about whether kids will stay in school or whether they will be sent back home for distance learning, and parents can’t go back to work if their kids are going to be at home.

I’m not sure if it’s not clicking.

We have been pretty in touch with a lot of Democratic legislators. I mean, last fall we had meetings with both sides of the aisle, but we’ve certainly, since the Democrats have come into control of both halves of Congress, technically, we’ve been focused there with our advocacy.

It’s disappointing to see how many people voted for them, and put faith and hope in them, and that they’re allowing that to be overshadowed by false narratives that are being put out about people being too lazy to work.

It seems like as much as sometimes President Biden speaks out against that, he also seems to be buying in about it being a disincentive to work, even though it’s been completely disproven. And it’s frankly, a cruel talking point and a cruel narrative to buy into.

Americans are not lazy. They’re struggling.

We are still in a pandemic. Delta is surging. People are reclosing events. Like all of our events in our theaters were starting to reopen and shows are getting canceled again already. So we’re seeing a dip back down and we’re going to lose these programs because of, I would say, political weakness, that they’re not fighting for something that’s really important because they are tired of fighting for things, and they’re letting this one go.

We have 10 ways you can get involved.

I think that the most important things right now are reaching out to your federal legislators, just to make sure that they know that as a constituent, you want something done about this. You are a constituent who is unemployed, and you need these extensions to happen.

Now that some of this might transition to responsibility being on the states, really getting into some of your local papers and getting to those state legislators and the governors is going to become key to the states that have that option left.

The next step in solving this problem is fixing the unemployment system so this doesn’t happen again, if we have another crisis like this. So getting involved in the fix UI movement is another great way to change this problem for the future. If we fix the program, we don’t have to hit these cliffs. We’ll have benefits that are more equitable and are higher and closer to actually replacing wages.

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US jobless claims slide to fresh pandemic-era low of 340,000

job fair marshalls
  • Filings for unemployment benefits slid to 340,000 last week, setting yet another pandemic-era low.
  • Economists surveyed by Bloomberg expected claims to total 345,000.
  • Continuing claims fell to 2.75 million for the week that ended August 21, coming in slightly below estimates.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The number of Americans filing for unemployment insurance fell last week, reversing the previous period’s climb and reaching a new pandemic low.

Weekly jobless claims totaled an unadjusted 340,000 last week, the Labor Department said Thursday. The median estimate from economists surveyed by Bloomberg saw claims sliding to a pandemic low of 345,000. The reading places claims at the lowest level since March 2020 and marks the second decline in three weeks.

The previous week’s total was revised to 354,000 from 353,000.

Continuing claims, which track Americans receiving unemployment benefits, slid to 2.75 million for the week that ended August 21, according to the report. That came in below the median forecast of 2.81 million claims. It also marked the fifth straight pandemic low for continuing claims.

The latest claims data covers the second-to-last week before the federal boost to unemployment benefits lapses. The government’s $300-per-week supplement will end on September 6 for the 24 states that haven’t cut the benefit early. While states prematurely ending the boost have argued the move would push more Americans into the workforce, several studies have since suggested the early cutoffs hurt local economies and did little to accelerate hiring.

The cancelation will also come while claims remain historically elevated. Weekly counts are still well above the pre-pandemic average of 200,000, and continuing claims need to fall by another million before meeting the pre-crisis norm.

In other labor-market news, hiring in the country’s private sector badly missed expectations in August. Private payrolls rose by 374,000 last month, ADP said in its monthly employment report. While the print marks a small uptick from July payroll growth, it fell well short of the 613,000-payroll forecast.

Hiring was likely dented by the surge in Delta cases and reinstatement of some mask-wearing rules. Daily case counts ended August at the highest point since January, when the virus’s winter resurgence was in full swing. The rebound in cases also cut into Americans’ hopes for the recovery, which likely slowed the recovery further.

“The Delta variant of COVID-19 appears to have dented the job market recovery,” Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, said in the ADP report. “Job growth remains inextricably tied to the path of the pandemic.”

Still, forecasts for the government’s nonfarm payrolls report remain promising. Economists expect the Friday jobs data to show 750,000 jobs added, and for the unemployment rate to slide to 5.2% from 5.4%. July’s jobs report trounced forecasts after ADP’s missed expectations, leaving a positive surprise in the cards for Friday morning.

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The research keeps coming about how governors hurt their states when they cut off unemployment benefits early

Unemployment protest
Unemployed people at a rally last year in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

  • After dismal jobs numbers in the spring, about half of states in the US ended federal unemployment early.
  • But research has continually shown that ending benefits had little effect on states’ employment.
  • However, it did cause a big dip in spending – and unemployment is associated with cutting down food insecurity.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Americans who’ve already lost unemployment benefits aren’t going back to work in droves – instead they are spending less and may not be getting enough to eat.

Federal unemployment benefits have become one flashpoint in the debate over pandemic economic recovery. When the spring’s jobs number showed that people weren’t flocking back to the workforce as quickly as expected, 25 GOP governors (and one Democratic governor) pointed to enhanced benefits as a deterrent – and opted to cut off most, or all, of them completely ahead of the September expiration.

The result: Millions of Americans losing benefits early, ongoing lawsuits from workers cut off, and an economy where workers continue to quit at elevated rates.

However, there’s one thing that increasingly hasn’t happened. Research has continually found that cutting off the benefits early had little difference on job growth and employment. The latest analysis comes from the Wall Street Journal, which found that there was “roughly similar job growth” in states that did and did not opt out of benefits.

Economist Peter Ganong, who co-authored a paper that found the disincentive effect of benefits was small, told the Journal: “If the question is, ‘Is UI the key thing that’s holding back the labor market recovery?’ The answer is no, definitely not, based on the available data.”

That aligns with other early research on the impact of benefits ending. CNBC reports that analyses from payroll firms UKG and Homebase both found that employment didn’t go up in the states cutting off the benefits; in fact, that Homebase analysis found that employment declined in the states opting out of federal benefits, while it went up in states that chose to retain benefits. In June, Indeed’s Hiring Lab found that job searches in states ending benefits were below April’s baseline.

In July, Arindrajit Dube, an economics professor at University of Massachusetts Amherst, found that ending benefits didn’t make workers rush back.

“Even as there was a clear reduction in the number of people who were receiving unemployment benefits – and a clear increase in the number of people who said that they were having difficulty paying their bills – that didn’t seem to translate, at least in the short run, into an uptick in overall employment rates,” Dube told Insider at the time.

But the impact on people and economies is very real

In August, Dube – along with researchers from Harvard University, Columbia University, and University of Toronto – released a new paper looking at 19 states who withdrew benefits early. They found that ending benefits had a small impact on employment in those states: “For every 8 workers who lost their benefits, 1 worker found a new job.”

But the bigger hit came to spending and states’ economies. The researchers found that consumer spending in those states dropped by $2 billion – “for every $1 of reduced benefits, spending fell by 52 cents.”

A January paper from Julia Raifman, Jacob Bor, and Atheendar Venkataramani looked at the link between unemployment insurance and food insecurity. They concluded that UI “was associated with a 35% reduction in reporting any food insecurity and a 48% decline in eating less due to financial constraints.”

Now, an estimated 7.5 million Americans are set to lose all of their federal benefits in a matter of days, according to an analysis from the left-leaning Century Foundation. Dube’s research extrapolates that that could lead to $8 billion less in spending in September and October. It could also lead to a reversal in those food insecurity trends.

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