On the Unemployment Weekly Claims Report for April 2, 2020

Following is a statement from Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project:

“This week’s unemployment claims report, which reflects last week’s claims, is up to 6.648 million, up 3.341 million from last week’s historic—and shocking—initial claims report. This is again a truly unprecedented number. Unfortunately, far too many eligible workers who are trying to file for unemployment are still encountering long waits or can’t connect at all with the state unemployment agency websites. NELP urges states to ramp up their claims-processing capacity as quickly as possible.

“The first wave of unemployed workers included retail and restaurant industry workers, with workers of color disproportionately impacted (47 percent of the restaurant workforce nationwide comprises people of color,[i] and Black and Latinx retail sales workers are overrepresented in cashier positions, the lowest-paid position in retail[ii]). Now, they are being joined by workers who either cannot telecommute or whose telecommuting jobs were shut down because so much of the economy is shuttered. Recent research shows that Black and Latinx workers are much less likely to be able to telework, potentially exacerbating the health and job loss impact for people of color.

“The huge volume of new UI claims suggests that at least some states are being as inclusive and expansive as possible in defining who qualifies for UI. Many workers who did not think they qualified in the past are now finding that they indeed are eligible to claim UI—and that’s important. Moreover, many states are moving quickly to improve jobless workers’ access to UI programs; the huge list of state UI reforms that have advanced in a short time period is unprecedented.

“With our partners, NELP worked to ensure that the massive legislative package passed late last week will serve even more workers traditionally left out of the UI system, both true independent contractors and those excluded from coverage due to massive lobbying efforts by ‘gig’ companies in many states. NELP continues to advocate for regular UI benefits for workers wrongly called ‘independent contractors’ in the states where this approach is possible. The legislation includes an extra $600 per week on top of claimants’ regular UI checks through July 31 to encourage workers to stay home and help ensure this job loss is as temporary as possible. UI has never before been used as a public health measure, but it has been adapted for this purpose.

“We still have much work to do. The new programs will take states some time to put in place, so workers unlikely to qualify for traditional unemployment insurance should follow state guidance on whether to apply now or wait until the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits system is up and running. Systems are flooded with new requests for benefits, so workers should be patient and persistent in getting claims through.

“As claims only represent job loss in the formal economy, it is clear our movement must develop solutions that financially stabilize all workers—including workers of color in the informal economy, who, because of historical exclusions from formal job markets, may be left out of UI. As we see these unemployment numbers, we recommit to a worker-led movement that will build power to achieve equitable and lasting structural reforms to our unemployment systems and to lift up all workers.”


[i] ROC United and Race Forward, Building the High Road to Racial Equity, https://chapters.rocunited.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/TheHighRoad_RacialEquity_Report.pdf

[ii] Demos, The Retail Race Divide, https://www.demos.org/research/retail-race-divide-how-retail-industry-perpetuating-racial-inequality-21st-century

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About the Author

Rebecca Dixon

Areas of expertise:
  • Occupational Segregation,
  • Program Management,
  • Unemployment Insurance,
  • Workplace Equity

NELP is led by President and Chief Executive Officer Rebecca Dixon. Rebecca is a respected national leader in federal workers’ rights advocacy and is in great demand for her thought leadership on issues of labor and racial, gender, and economic justice.

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