Jobless Claims Drop Again

Jobless claims have dipped down again following an increase similar to earlier lows in November and October.

First-time claims for unemployment benefits totaled 712,000 in the week ending on Nov. 28. Jobless claims were at 787,000 the week prior.

Last week’s jobless numbers were a far cry from the pandemic high of nearly 7 million. However, the number remains significantly higher than jobless claims before the pandemic when claims were around 200,000.

The improvement in jobless claims comes amid an uptick in coronavirus cases in the U.S.

Continuing unemployment claims also saw improvement this past week as those claims fell by 569,000 to 5.52 million.

However, these numbers may not be as accurate as many would like. This past week a government watchdog found that the U.S. system for providing unemployment benefits to jobless workers has consistently produced inaccurate data and lower-than-appropriate payouts to millions of workers.

According to the Government Accountability Office, the Labor Department has published “flawed estimates of the number of individuals receiving benefits each week throughout the pandemic.”

These inaccuracies could have significant blowback for policymakers as they try to respond to the pandemic fallout.

The misleading nature of the continuing claims data is one example of the Labor Department’s reporting problems. While the department has reported only 5.52 million individuals filing continuing claims for unemployment overall, there are still over 20 million Americans filing weekly for some kind of unemployment benefit.

“DOL officials told GAO that they have traditionally used this number as a proxy for the number of individuals claiming benefits because they were closely related. However, the number of claims has not been an accurate estimate of the number of individuals claiming benefits during the pandemic because of backlogs in processing a historic volume of claims, among other data issues,” said the Government Accountability Office in its report.

In response to the issue, the Government Accountability Office recommended that the Department of Labor revise its weekly news releases to clarify that in the pandemic’s current unemployment environment, the numbers it reports for weeks of unemployment claimed do not accurately estimate the number of unique individuals claiming benefits. The report also recommended the Department of Labor pursue options to report the actual number of distinct individuals claiming benefits.

The benefits paid out during the pandemic were also mishandled. In response to the pandemic, Congress created the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. The program’s purpose was to provide jobless benefits to workers who usually are not eligible for them, such as gig employees. However, the program’s payouts do not always reach the full amount for which unemployed individuals are qualified.

“The majority of states have been paying PUA claimants the minimum allowable benefit instead of the amount they are eligible for based on prior earnings,” said the Government Accountability Office.

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