Unemployment sees weekly drop as end of federal benefits hits one-month mark

(The Center Square) – Federal economic data released Thursday showed a sharp drop in in new unemployment filings, ending several weeks of rising claims and potentially confirming experts' predictions that ending federal unemployment benefits would lower unemployment.

The Department of Labor (DOL) released weekly unemployment data showing that first-time unemployment claims dropped to 326,000 for the week ending Oct. 2, a decrease of 38,000 from the week before.

“The highest insured unemployment rates in the week ending September 18 were in Puerto Rico (4.5), Illinois (4.2), California (3.1), Hawaii (3.0), New Jersey (2.9), Nevada (2.8), Alaska (2.7), Oregon (2.7), Louisiana (2.5), and New York (2.5),” DOL said.

This decrease reversed a trend of increased unemployment and fit experts’ predictions that unemployment would begin to decrease after weekly federal unemployment benefits ended the first week of September. Whether that trend will continue in coming weeks remains to be seen.

Congress as well as state governments have grappled over whether to continue the benefits. More than two dozen Republican-led states ended the unemployment payments before the September expiration date, arguing the funds were leading to elevated unemployment despite widespread job availability.

A Morning Consult survey from earlier this year added weight to that argument after it reported that 1.8 million unemployed Americans had rejected job opportunities because they would rather have government benefits.

Economic data this year has shown there are more jobs than workers, adding fuel to opponents of the program. Some Democrats, though, have argued for keeping the plan, arguing Americans still need help in the aftermath of the pandemic.

In the first few weeks after the end of the federal benefits, unemployment rose, raising questions about the theory that the payments were contributing to unemployment. This week’s decrease though, lines up with experts’ predictions.

“Our employment forecast for the rest of 2021 assumes a large boost to job growth from the expiration of federal enhanced unemployment insurance (UI) benefits that provided a $300/week federal UI top-up payment to all UI benefit recipients, extended the duration of benefits, and expanded eligibility to include gig workers,” Goldman Sachs said in a September report.

Sachs went on to say their research suggested that joblessness would go down over time, particularly in sectors like hospitality and leisure.

“Using the individual-level data from the household survey, we found that UI-benefit expiration resulted in a statistically significant increase in the job finding rates of unemployed workers that was economically large, particularly for leisure and hospitality workers and workers who lost all benefits, and that increased over time,” Sachs said.

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