Last updated on June 4, 2020

A Visual Guide to Unemployment Benefit Claims

According to Thursday’s data release, another 1,603,000 people filed initial regular unemployment benefit claims during the week ending May 30, the eighth week of a decline in the rate of new claims, but still among the highest levels in U.S. history. (New claims peaked at 6,211,399 for the week ending April 4.) The total number of new and continued claims now stands at 20,898,200, slightly higher than the 20,775,732 in the system last week but a marked decline from 24,975,778 two weeks ago, and—for now, at least—a return to late April levels. Three million fewer people have insured claims than two weeks ago.

The Department of Labor is now reporting Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claims as well, which are claims made by certain self-employed individuals, including subcontractors and gig economy workers, who have lost work due to the crisis and would not normally be eligible for unemployment compensation. The new data show that 11,363,991 people have applied for or are already receiving pandemic unemployment assistance. Counting federal employees, workshare, and other smaller unemployment compensation categories, this brings the total number of Americans receiving benefits to around 31 million, but this is almost certainly an underestimate, as PUA claims data remain incomplete.

Prior to the current crisis, the highest one-week unemployment claims as a percentage of everyone in the unemployment insurance system (those currently in “covered” employment plus those claiming benefits) was 1.36 percent, in January 1975. During the Great Recession, the one-week peak was 0.68 percent in January 2009. The peak during the current crisis, reached the week ending April 4, was 3.89 percent.

Approximately 12.6 percent of the U.S. civilian labor force has now applied for or is receiving unemployment compensation benefits (through May 30, the latest data). Counting pandemic claims, over 19.5 percent of the U.S. workforce has applied for or is receiving benefits, and this number is almost certainly too low, as federal data on pandemic claims still omits some states entirely. The previous high was 7.9 percent early in 1975 during a recession, with a Great Recession peak of 4.8 percent between February and April 2009. Entering March 2020, unemployment claims as a percentage of the civilian labor force stood at 1.4 percent.

The map below only includes regular unemployment claims since reporting of pandemic claims is still too inconsistent to allow comparisons.

percentage of jobless claims in the united states, state unemployment rates, state unemployment insurance claims, state unemployment claims

Unfortunately, many states entered the crisis with woefully inadequate unemployment compensation trust funds.

According to the Treasury Department, nine states—California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Texas, and West Virginia—have already been approved for federal loans (called Title XII Advances) in anticipation of the exhaustion of their trust funds. States must repay these advances (with interest starting in 2021), and if they still have outstanding balances after two years, in-state businesses will face higher federal unemployment insurance taxes to compensate for the state being in arrears.

At the same time, however, under guidance from the Treasury Department, some states have begun using funding from the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) under the CARES Act to cover unemployment benefit claims arising from the pandemic. States recently deposited their first-quarter unemployment insurance (UI) tax revenues, moreover, providing a substantial infusion of revenue into their funds.

The revenue boost will not last. The way most states structure their UI taxes, most of the revenue is collected for wages paid in the first quarter of the year, making the recent revenue boosts an annual, not a regular, adjustment. Using the CRF to cover weekly payments, however, is a significant lifeline for states, where declines in weeks of reserves have slowed even as more claims enter the system and can in fact be expected to level off for a while.

States are now processing and paying out claims from self-employed filers (normally ineligible for unemployment compensation) under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program as well. These claims are fully federally funded and do not impact states’ trust funds.

Mandatory business closures and shelter-in-place orders have radically accelerated job losses compared to the steadier pace of layoffs in prior recessions, meaning these claims likely represent a far greater share of the ultimate total than did any week’s claims during the Great Recession. But the numbers are still staggering, with every likelihood of sobering numbers in coming weeks as well.

Our interactive tool allows you to see how the most recent week’s initial unemployment compensation claims in each state compare to average and peak weekly claims during the Great Recession. Many states are woefully unprepared for the magnitude of the challenge ahead. Entering the crisis, 21 states’ unemployment compensation trust funds were below the minimum recommended solvency level to weather a recession. Six states had less than half the minimum recommended amount, representing 37 percent of the U.S. population.

Crucially, a solvency level of 1 indicates the ability to pay out claims for one year during a Great Recession-like event, and as of May 16, over 25.1 million people had filed for unemployment, 494 percent of the worst Great Recession level. A level of 1 now suggests the ability to pay out current claims for only a little under 11 weeks—and of course, states have already started paying out these new claims.

How Solvent is your state's unemployment insurance trust fund? State unemployment insurance solvency, solvency of state unemployment insurance trust funds, solvency of state unemployment trust funds

As more firms lay off employees and unemployment increases, states’ unemployment insurance taxes will rise on businesses that can least afford to pay. As states receive federal assistance to aid with unemployment benefits, it may be appropriate to provide some measure of relief to businesses as well, particularly to the extent that their layoffs were precipitated by business closure orders.

Explore your state’s data on our interactive tool below.

 

You can embed this interactive on your own website by inserting the following code:

<div id="covid19-ui-claims-bar-chart"></div>
<script type="text/javascript" src="https://covid19-ui-claims-bar-chart.netlify.com/pym.js"></script>
<script type="text/javascript" src="https://covid19-ui-claims-bar-chart.netlify.com/pymSetup.js"></script>
Table 1.  Weekly Unemployment Claims During the Great Recession and 2020 Coronavirus
State Great Recession, Average Weekly Claims Great Recession, Peak Weekly Claims 1-Week Initial Claims (ending 5/30) % Change From Following Week
U.S. Total 482,266 956,791 1,603,000 -16.41%
Alabama 6,679 20,894 20,785 -25.55%
Alaska 1,730 4,160 7,818 -4.10%
Arizona 5,922 11,178 22,067 -17.87%
Arkansas 5,077 10,489 8,050 -25.64%
California 58,695 95,705 230,461 13.38%
Colorado 3,525 7,284 12,102 -23.01%
Connecticut 5,102 13,023 14,268 -14.06%
Delaware 1,235 3,051 2,966 -36.23%
District of Columbia 426 1,287 3,532 -31.22%
Florida 17,967 40,403 206,494 17.72%
Georgia 14,156 41,522 148,095 -10.52%
Hawaii 1,793 3,211 7,766 -15.03%
Idaho 2,749 7,303 3,435 -27.33%
Illinois 17,760 34,524 46,522 -20.15%
Indiana 10,891 28,616 23,591 -7.57%
Iowa 5,293 13,865 6,920 -49.32%
Kansas 3,913 18,064 10,429 -7.15%
Kentucky 7,974 25,057 42,793 -20.37%
Louisiana 3,783 28,080 19,810 -17.32%
Maine 1,678 5,634 11,191 -32.86%
Maryland 5,775 12,031 31,343 -7.79%
Massachusetts 8,881 22,028 27,174 -29.11%
Michigan 22,013 76,702 41,035 -36.45%
Minnesota 6,720 15,195 22,466 -17.44%
Mississippi 3,477 9,420 23,945 0.37%
Missouri 9,227 21,413 19,139 -30.24%
Montana 1,433 3,837 2,874 -24.78%
Nebraska 1,637 3,780 5,135 -11.65%
Nevada 4,765 8,945 13,879 -11.07%
New Hampshire 1,413 3,594 6,036 -16.93%
New Jersey 12,255 24,095 25,632 -25.51%
New Mexico 1,478 3,308 5,856 -38.51%
New York 24,033 54,805 82,981 -56.11%
North Carolina 17,175 56,647 36,400 -17.65%
North Dakota 610 2,332 2,546 -14.51%
Ohio 16,945 40,829 34,638 -18.66%
Oklahoma 2,867 6,196 37,986 -13.10%
Oregon 9,316 20,916 19,506 -31.44%
Pennsylvania 28,262 59,669 50,462 -24.66%
Puerto Rico 3,519 7,267 7,139 -47.20%
Rhode Island 1,855 3,987 2,747 -6.47%
South Carolina 7,730 22,548 18,986 -25.19%
South Dakota 463 1,382 1,435 -58.66%
Tennessee 8,398 30,753 22,784 -10.44%
Texas 18,092 49,398 106,821 -16.36%
Utah 2,112 5,205 4,996 -7.57%
Vermont 1,016 2,860 1,382 -10.95%
Virgin Islands 65 235 20 -57.45%
Virginia 7,098 21,862 32,202 -17.94%
Washington 11,091 26,075 34,873 -29.46%
West Virginia 1,747 4,368 4,535 -7.52%
Wisconsin 16,025 35,885 25,026 -13.61%
Wyoming 565 1,483 1,926 -31.21%
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Table 2. Initial and Continuing Regular Unemployment Compensation Claims as a Percentage of the Civilian Labor Force
U.S. Total 12.6%
Alabama 8.9%
Alaska 16.1%
Arizona 6.2%
Arkansas 8.8%
California 15.4%
Colorado 8.1%
Connecticut 13.8%
Delaware 12.3%
District of Columbia 17.3%
Florida 7.8%
Georgia 17.3%
Hawaii 19.9%
Idaho 5.9%
Illinois 12.1%
Indiana 7.8%
Iowa 9.9%
Kansas 7.9%
Kentucky 12.0%
Louisiana 15.3%
Maine 25.1%
Maryland 8.3%
Massachusetts 15.8%
Michigan 19.3%
Minnesota 14.2%
Mississippi 16.0%
Missouri 8.2%
Montana 9.4%
Nebraska 6.1%
Nevada 21.9%
New Hampshire 14.1%
New Jersey 12.5%
New Mexico 11.9%
New York 19.3%
North Carolina 11.3%
North Dakota 9.5%
Ohio 10.0%
Oklahoma 11.2%
Oregon 21.4%
Pennsylvania 16.4%
Puerto Rico 16.1%
Rhode Island 14.8%
South Carolina 10.0%
South Dakota 4.5%
Tennessee 10.0%
Texas 10.8%
Utah 5.1%
Vermont 14.0%
Virgin Islands
Virginia 9.6%
Washington 13.8%
West Virginia 12.1%
Wisconsin 9.5%
Wyoming 6.5%
Source: U.S. Department of Labor; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Tax Foundation calculations.
Note: Excludes Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Claims, which are fully paid by the federal government, because federal reporting still omits many states.

Updates

  • June 4, 2020: Weekly initial unemployment benefit claims added for the week ending May 30, 2020.
  • May 28, 2020: Weekly initial unemployment benefit claims added for the week ending May 23, 2020.
  • May 21, 2020: Weekly initial unemployment benefit claims added for the week ending May 16, 2020.
  • May 14, 2020: Weekly initial unemployment benefit claims added for the week ending May 9, 2020.
  • May 7, 2020: Weekly initial unemployment benefit claims added for the week ending May 2, 2020.
  • April 30, 2020: Weekly initial unemployment benefit claims added for the week ending April 25, 2020.
  • April 23, 2020: Weekly initial unemployment benefit claims added for the week ending April 18, 2020.
  • April 16, 2020: Weekly initial unemployment benefit claims added for the week ending April 11, 2020.
  • April 9, 2020: Weekly initial unemployment benefit claims added for the week ending April 4, 2020.
  • April 2, 2020: Weekly initial unemployment benefit claims added for the week ending March 28, 2020.

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