Politics & Money

Jobless claims fall to 1.5 million as states process backlogs

The total number of Americans receiving unemployment benefits dropped to 20.9 million

Applications for unemployment benefits totaled 1.5 million last week, despite phased reopenings in states, as some businesses closed their doors amid a recession and backlogged jobless claims were processed.

It was the tenth consecutive weekly decline and the lowest reading since the COVID-19 pandemic started shuttering schools and workplaces in mid-March.

Continuing claims, measuring the total number of people receiving unemployment benefits, eased by 339,000 to 20.9 million, the Labor Department report showed.

Last week’s initial jobless claims bring the 12-week total employment losses for the pandemic to 44 million, though millions of those workers have been rehired as states reopened and some businesses got federal Paycheck Protection Program loans that are for forgivable if companies maintain their pre-pandemic payroll.

The jobless claims may not be an up-to-date snapshot of what the economy is doing because of the backlog of processing claims by states, the administrators of the benefits. Some of the layoffs in today’s report may have happened weeks ago but are just now being recorded.

Some states still use unemployment-benefits systems with old programming languages such as Fortran and Cobol that date to the 1960s. When Congress passed the CARES Act at the end of March mandating that gig workers such as freelancers and rideshare drivers can receive unemployment, they were forced to find programmers who knew those old languages so they could update their systems.

On May 31, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown fired the director of the state’s employment office, Kay Erickson, because of a backlog of unprocessed jobless claims and complaints from residents who say they haven’t been able to file a claim, despite repeated attempts.

The state with the biggest drop in claims from a week earlier was Florida, which has been one of the most aggressive in the nation in its reopening. While the White House reopening plan called for to states to ease restrictions only when COVID-19 cases were on the decline, that guidance hasn’t always been followed.

Florida reported 1,400 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday, up from 379 on May 27, and now ranks No. 8 in the U.S. for coronavirus deaths with the loss of 2,801 people since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

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