Workers have filed for unemployment benefits in record numbers ever since the COVID-19 outbreak hit the United States.
Scroll through more than 40 years of unemployment claims data from the US Department of Labor in the bar chart below. To understand the extent of these claim numbers, it's best to look at some historic metrics.
Unemployment insurance is a joint state-federal program that provides benefits to eligible workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. Requirements and benefits vary by state. The table below shows how the number of people receiving benefits has changed in the past year in the 50 states, the Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico.
Latest Unemployment Rate
|Initial Unemployment Claims (latest)
|Initial Unemployment Claims (four weeks before)
|Initial Unemployment Claims (six months before)
|Initial Unemployment Claims (one year before)
|District of Columbia
Unemployment insurance claims differ from the unemployment rate, which refers to the share of the labor force without jobs and currently looking for one. People who are counted in the unemployment rate, compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, may not be receiving unemployment benefits. Unemployment rate data is usually released monthly and is less up to date than weekly unemployment claims data.
The average weekly unemployment benefit is $356. The CARES Act, passed to support people who have lost employment for reasons related to COVID-19, provides an additional $600 per week through July 31, 2020.
The new legislation also extends the length of time a person may receive unemployment insurance benefits. Though benefits vary by state, most states offer 26 weeks. Under the CARES Act, an additional 13 weeks of unemployment insurance are provided after the normal state benefits are exhausted, meaning most states will provide 39 weeks. This will apply through December 31, 2020. The legislation also extends coverage to contractors and self-employed workers.
In 2018, the average unemployed worker claimed 15 weeks through the unemployment insurance program. During the 2008 recession, the average rose to 19 weeks.