COVID-19: Who is unemployed? The unemployment rate explained
Job loss numbers skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, but not everyone was counted as unemployed. Here’s how the unemployment rate is measured.
Just the FAQs, USA TODAY
Jo Marie Hernandez wasn’t sure how she and her 4-year-old daughter would survive after her unemployment aid lapsed this weekend.
Hernandez, who lives in Olean, Cattaraugus County, is on the brink of losing her home in days after she lost her job as a customer service associate at a gas station in the spring. Following prolonged unemployment, she’s struggled to make ends meet and has nothing left in savings to keep her afloat.
“I only have $100 left to my name. My whole world is shattered,” says Hernandez, 32, who has been forced to put her car up for sale. “We can’t wait a few weeks for help. We’re starving and will be out on the street soon.”
More than 1.7 million New Yorkers were at risk of losing their unemployment insurance this week after President Donald Trump initially refused to sign a $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill that extended benefits for out-of-work Americans.
That includes New Yorkers who have been collecting unemployment through two federally funded programs that were put in place last spring due to the pandemic.
But Trump signed the measure late Sunday, saying his approval comes «with a strong message that makes clear to Congress that wasteful items need to be removed.»
«I am signing this bill to restore unemployment benefits, stop evictions, provide rental assistance, add money for PPP, return our airline workers back to work, add substantially more money for vaccine distribution, and much more,» the president said in a statement.
The measure means unemployed people will get an additional $300 a week through mid-March. Overall, 14 million unemployed Americans were set to lose their weekly checks.
Trump said he will sign the package approved by Congress on Dec. 22 that includes $600 per person checks to income-eligible Americans.
But Trump wants it to go to $2,000 per person, and he said Congress was prepared to vote Monday to do so.
«I simply want to get our great people $2,000, rather than the measly $600 that is now in the bill. Also, stop the billions of dollars in ‘pork,’ » Trump wrote Saturday on Twitter.
Benefits in New York
Few states have more at stake in the battle in Washington than New York.
As of Dec. 5, 1 million New Yorkers got benefits from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, ranking second among states behind only California.
And another 761,000 got their unemployment from Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, according to federal labor statistics.
«The American people need financial assistance to make it through the end of the year,» Gov. Andrew Cuomo wrote in a letter to Congress on Dec. 19.
The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, program provides federally funded unemployment benefits through the state Labor Department, and it gives checks to those typically not covered by unemployment, such as freelancers, self-employed workers and temporary employees.
The program, which was part of the federal CARES Act approved in March, provided 46 weeks of federal benefits. But it expired Saturday without Trump’s signature on the stimulus package approved last week by Congress.
Initially, the CARES Act included a $600 weekly supplement for jobless workers through late July. When that expired, the Trump administration granted New York and other states up to six weeks of $300 a week, but that ended in New York in early September.
Also expiring was the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, or PEUC, program that added another 13 weeks of federally-funded unemployment benefits.
Many out-of-work Americans had already used up their state unemployment aid, which typically expires after six months, and had transitioned to PEUC.
It’s unclear if the delay until Sunday for Trump’s approval will impact getting the benefits out.
The $300-a-week jobless supplement is expected last for 10 weeks instead of the 11 weeks originally in the package, and states may need to process the payments as it would need to wait for guidance from the federal government.
«We will update New Yorkers when more information is available and will work as quickly as possible to get New Yorkers their benefits,» Deanna Cohen, a spokeswoman for the state Labor Department, said Sunday.
Adding to an economic struggle
The loss of the unemployment aid was feared to add to a grim winter for many New Yorkers as COVID cases surge and Cuomo seeks to balance business closures with keeping the economy churning.
Other programs, such as aid for small businesses and an eviction moratorium, will also continue with Trump’s signature.
“Without those unemployment checks, people won’t take their insulin. There will be foreclosures and evictions. People will sell their car. People won’t eat. The human toll can’t be overstated,” said Michele Evermore, senior researcher and policy analyst for the National Employment Law Project.
So far, the nation has recovered 56% of the 22.2 million jobs wiped out in the health crisis.
The total number of COVID-19 cases worldwide has topped 80 million, while the death toll in the U.S. has surpassed 330,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.
New York has had the most deaths in the nation: 37,286 both confirmed and suspected.
In New York, the state unemployment rate fell from 9.2% to 8.4% between October and November, while the rate in New York City dropped from 13% to 12.1%.
Outside of the city, the unemployment rate decreased from 6.5% to 5.7%.
But there were still 771,200 New Yorkers out of work last month, and overall the number of private-sector jobs was down 937,700 from a year ago — led by 325,600 fewer positions in the leisure and hospitality industry, state records showed.
Since the beginning of the pandemic in March, New York has paid more than $56 billion in unemployment benefits to 3.8 million New Yorkers. That’s more than 26 typical years’ worth of benefits, the state Department of Labor said.
The loss of unemployment payments hits minorities, especially Black workers, the hardest. They typically have higher rates of unemployment and longer durations of joblessness, according to Evermore.
Unemployment for Black and Asian workers typically lasted an average of about 26 weeks before the pandemic, compared with 20 weeks for white and Latino workers, Evermore said.
Nearly 5 million people, including 1.3 million children, will fall into poverty in January if Congress fails to extend the unemployment programs, according to a recent study by Columbia University.
An extension of the benefits and the weekly $300 federal supplement would keep 7.6 million Americans out of poverty in January, including 2.3 million children, Columbia University researchers found.
“How do people end up in long-term poverty? They typically lose their job and their unemployment benefits run out before they can find another one,” said Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank.
“It’s a spiral that they can’t get out of that leads to mental health problems.”
Joseph Spector is the Government and Politics Editor for the USA TODAY Network’s Atlantic Group, overseeing coverage in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. He can be reached at JSPECTOR@Gannett.com or followed on Twitter: @GannettAlbany
Support local journalism
We cover the stories from the New York State Capitol and across New York that matter most to you and your family. Please consider supporting our efforts with a subscription to the New York publication nearest you.