Nine Months After the Health and Economic Crisis Began, Unemployment Claims Near Record High

  • Unemployment benefits are flowing to workers in a volume that is near records set before the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Elevated figures — for "continued" and "initial" claims — reflect economic and financial pain almost nine months into the Covid-19 crisis.

The number of Americans collecting and applying for unemployment benefits is hovering near pre-pandemic records. By some measures, the figure still exceeds any historical precedent.

The volume reflects deep and sustained pain for workers, nearly nine months after the health and economic crisis began.

"The numbers we're looking at now are [far higher than] anything we've seen before," said Erica Groshen, a labor economist at Cornell University and former commissioner of the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. "We've never seen a shock like this."

Continued claims

Around 5.9 million filed a "continued claim" for state unemployment insurance the week of Nov. 14, according to the Labor Department. Continued claims are a rough proxy for the number of people receiving benefits.

Those figures are close to the prior peak — 6.5 million continued claims — set in March 2009 during the Great Recession.




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