For the 1st time during the pandemic, initial UI claims have dipped below pre-crisis levels, falling to 199,000 (vs the Feb 2020 avg: 211,700). Layoffs are hitting new lows amid ongoing labor shortages as employers look to hold onto hard-to-find workers.
New weekly claims for jobless aid plunged to the lowest level in more than 50 years last week, according to data released Wednesday by the Labor Department.
In the week ending Nov. 20, there were 199,000 initial applications for unemployment insurance, according to the seasonally adjusted figures, a decline of 71,000 from the previous week. Claims fell to the lowest level since November 1969 and are now well below the pre-pandemic trough of 225,000 applications received the week of March 14, 2020.
The steep drop in unemployment applications comes after several strong months of job growth and rising consumer spending heading into the holiday shopping season. While high inflation has stressed many household budgets, U.S. job growth, economic production, stock values and corporate profits have all steamed ahead.
“Getting new claims below the 200,000 level for the first time since the pandemic began is truly significant, portraying further improvement,” said Mark Hamrick, chief economic analyst at Bankrate.com.
“The strains associated with higher prices, shortages of supplies and available job candidates are weighed against low levels of layoffs, wage gains and a falling unemployment rate,” he continued. “Growth will likely be above par for the foreseeable future, but within the context of historically high inflation which should relax its grip on the economy to some degree in the year ahead.”
The U.S. added 531,000 jobs in October and job growth in the previous months was revised substantially higher after a string of what first appeared to be meager gains. While businesses have struggled to hire enough workers to meet surging consumer demand, the decline in jobless claims appears to be a sign of an improving labor market.
“Layoffs are hitting new lows amid ongoing labor shortages as employers look to hold onto hard-to-find workers,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at Glassdoor, in a Wednesday thread on Twitter.
Even so, Zhao said the sharp decline below pre-pandemic levels may have been due to a lower than expected seasonal impact on hiring.
“As you can see from the above chart, this is in part due to the seasonal adjustment expecting a much larger jump in non-seasonally adjusted claims, so this dip below pre-crisis levels may be short-lived,” he explained.
The job market added a stunning 531,000 jobs last month. The unemployment rate ticked down to 4.6% — a new pandemic-era low.
Why it matters: America’s job market recovery has been on track all along.
Between the lines: Revisions to prior months are often overlooked. Not this month: Upgrades to both August and September were so enormous — fully 366,000 jobs higher than originally reported — that they have definitively reversed the narrative that there was a Delta-induced hiring slump in late summer.
By the numbers:America has now recovered 80% of the jobs lost at the depth of the recession in 2020.
The big picture: Leisure and hospitality added 164,000 jobs last month — but jobs growth was widespread. The disappointment — again — came in public sector education. State and local education shed a combined 65,000 jobs.
Wages are still rising: Average hourly earnings rose another 11 cents an hour in October, to $30.96. That’s enough to keep up with inflation.
What to watch: Millions of workers remain on the sidelines — and there wasn’t much improvement in pulling them back into the workforce.
The bottom line: “The Fall hiccup is now at best a Fall deep breath,” tweeted University of Michigan economist Justin Wolfers.
A new report out later today concludes that basic scientific research plays an essential role in creating companies that later produce thousands of jobs and billions in economic value.
Why it matters: The report uses thepandemic — and especially the rapid development of new mRNA vaccines — to show how basic research funding from the government lays the necessary groundwork for economically valuable companies down the road.
By the numbers: The Science Coalition — a nonprofit group that represents 50 of the nation’s top private and public research universities — identified 53 companies that have spun off from federally funded university research.
Those companies — which range from pharmaceutical startups to agriculture firms — have contributed more than $1.3 billion to U.S. GDP between 2015 and 2019, while supporting the creation of more than 100,000 jobs.
What they’re saying:“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that the need for the federal government to continue investing in fundamental research is far from theoretical,” says John Latini, president of the Science Coalition. “Consistent, sustained, robust federal funding is how science evolves.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would see its budget rise to a record high of $6.9 billion, including $800 millionreserved for climate research.
The catch: The Biden budget proposal is just that, and it will ultimately be up to Congress to decide how much to allocate to research agencies.
Context: Government research funding is vital because private money tends to go to applied research. But without basic research — the lifeblood of science — the U.S. risks missing out on potentially world-changing innovations in the future.
The long-term value of that funding can be seen in the story of Katalin Kariko, an obscure biomedical researcher who labored for years on mRNA with little reward — until the pandemic, when her work helped provide the foundation for mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.
The bottom line: Because its ultimate payoff might lay years in the future, it’s easy to see basic research funding as a waste — until the day comes when we need it.
The financial challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have forced hundreds of hospitals across the nation to furlough, lay off or reduce pay for workers, and others have had to scale back services or close.
Lower patient volumes, canceled elective procedures and higher expenses tied to the pandemic have created a cash crunch for hospitals. U.S. hospitals are estimated to lose more than $323 billion this year, according to a report from the American Hospital Association. The total includes $120.5 billion in financial losses the AHA predicts hospitals will see from July to December.
Hospitals are taking a number of steps to offset financial damage. Executives, clinicians and other staff are taking pay cuts, capital projects are being put on hold, and some employees are losing their jobs. More than 260 hospitals and health systems furloughed workers this year and dozens of others have implemented layoffs.
Below are 11 hospitals and health systems that announced layoffs since Sept. 1, most of which were attributed to financial strain caused by the pandemic.
1. NorthBay Healthcare, a nonprofit health system based in Fairfield, Calif., is laying off 31 of its 2,863 employees as part of its pandemic recovery plan, the system announced Nov. 2.
2. Minneapolis-based Children’s Minnesota is laying off 150 employees, or about 3 percent of its workforce. Children’s Minnesota cited several reasons for the layoffs, including the financial hit from the COVID-19 pandemic. Affected employees will end their employment either Dec. 31 or March 31.
3. Brattleboro Retreat, a psychiatric and addiction treatment hospital in Vermont, notified 85 employees in late October that they would be laid off within 60 days.
4. Citing a need to offset financial losses, Minneapolis-basedM Health Fairview said it plans to downsize its hospital and clinic operations. As a result of the changes, 900 employees, about 3 percent of its 34,000-person workforce, will be laid off.
5. Lake Charles (La.) Memorial Health Systemlaid off 205 workers, or about 8 percent of its workforce, as a result of damage sustained from Hurricane Laura. The health system laid off employees at Moss Memorial Health Clinic and the Archer Institute, two facilities in Lake Charles that sustained damage from the hurricane.
6. Burlington, Mass.-based Wellforce laid off 232 employees as a result of operating losses linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. The health system, comprising Tufts Medical Center, Lowell General Hospital and MelroseWakefield Healthcare,experienced a drastic drop in patient volume earlier this year due to the suspension of outpatient visits and elective surgeries. In the nine months ended June 30, the health system reported a $32.2 million operating loss.
7. Baptist Health Floyd in New Albany, Ind., part of Louisville, Ky.-based Baptist Health, eliminated 36 positions. The hospital said the cuts, which primarily affected administrative and nonclinical roles, are due to restructuring that is “necessary to meet financial challenges compounded by COVID-19.”
8. Cincinnati-based UC Health laid off about 100 employees. The job cuts affected both clinical and non-clinical staff. A spokesperson for the health system said no physicians were laid off.
9. Mercy Iowa City(Iowa) announced in September that it will lay off 29 employees to address financial strain tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.
10. Springfield, Ill.-based Memorial Health Systemlaid off 143 employees, or about 1.5 percent of the five-hospital system’s workforce. The health system cited financial pressures tied to the pandemic as the reason for the layoffs.
11. Watertown, N.Y.-based Samaritan Healthannounced Sept. 8 that it laid off 51 employees and will make other cost-cutting moves to offset financial stress tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tens of millions of people have been on unemployment at some point in the last seven months, since the pandemic began. Now, thousands are being told they have to pay some or all of that money back, either because they made an error when they applied for benefits, or the state did.
“People are terrified by these messages, and they’re coming in swarms,” said Anne Paxton of the Unemployment Law Project. “We’re hearing about this all the time.”
Many people receiving overpayment notices have already used their benefits to pay for basic living expenses.
“I don’t have $10,000 sitting around,” said Larson Ross, 25, who got a notice of overpayment from the state of Colorado in late August. “I was a low-wage tea house worker who was unemployed for four months. I was using the money from unemployment for food and rent. So it’s spent.”
He has no idea what he’s going to do. He’s never been so stressed in his life.
“The few days after I first received the letter I found it really hard to get out of bed at all,” Ross said. “It’s really tough.”
There are a variety of reasons people might get an overpayment of benefits notice. In Ross’ case, his employer successfully contested his eligibility for unemployment, saying he quit, which he disputes. In some cases, it’s because an applicant misunderstood or mischaracterized something on their application. In other cases, the state may have miscalculated a benefit, or approved an application before verifying all the information.
While this also happened in pre-pandemic times, the issue is particularly acute now given the historic number of claims that have flooded state unemployment offices since March — and the state of the economy.
“The circumstances for returning to work are just not the same,” said Kathy White, deputy director of the Colorado Fiscal Institute. “Congress needs to recognize that, and make sure that the systems that they’re putting in place for workers to help them through this time, that are just immediate relief … they cannot be punitive. Coming out of COVID with a $15,000 debt that you cannot repay is not helpful.”
With traditional unemployment insurance benefits and with Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, if someone has been overpaid, states have the discretion to waive repayment, as long as there was no fraud involved — particularly if repayment would cause financial hardship. But that is not the case with Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. Under current federal law, states do not have the authority to waive repayment of PUA benefits if a person was overpaid, according to Michele Evermore of the National Employment Law Project.
“This is honestly the biggest reason that Congress needs to do something on COVID relief,” she said. “If this issue doesn’t get solved, this is going to be more explosive than people losing the $600 in some ways, because they’ll have to pay back six months of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. Nobody who qualified for PUA is going to have that much money sitting around.”
Andrew Tolch applied for PUA in the spring, on the advice of both his bank and his accountant, when he had to temporarily close down his toy store in St. Louis, Missouri because of COVID.
He was approved, and used all the money he got — less than $200 a week in PUA, plus the extra $600 a week in FPUC — to pay utilities and rent for the store.
Then, over the summer, he got an overpayment notice from the state of Missouri: he owed a big chunk of that money back — $2,376 in total.
“I was shocked, and I didn’t understand it,” he said. “I followed the rules correctly. We should have qualified, and according to the rules they gave us, we qualified.”
Tolch has since connected with a number of other small business owners in Missouri who also got notices of overpayment, and he said none of them understands why the state is now saying they didn’t qualify for pandemic assistance. They’re considering the possibility of a class action lawsuit.
“It will sink a lot of people if they would have to give it all back,” Tolch said. “Just one more blow from 2020 to small businesses.”
People who think they got an overpayment notice in error, or who can’t afford to repay the benefits, can always appeal — and should, according to Eric Salinger, director of the Employment Law Project at Alaska Legal Services.
But for people who do not win on appeal, or do not get a repayment waiver, states can find ways to recoup that money. Some are more aggressive than others, according to Evermore.
“Every state has different recoupment authority,” she said. “In some states, other benefits can be garnished to pay for that. Taxes could be garnished, future wages could be garnished.”
Larson Ross is afraid that will happen to him. He finally found a seasonal job in northern Colorado, and is making enough money to get by this month, at least — as long as the state doesn’t garnish his wages. Then, he doesn’t know.
Kathy White is hoping that Colorado and other states will use their discretion to waive repayment in cases where there was no fraud, and that Congress will change the law so states can waive overpayment recoupment of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.
“It should be just forgiveness for error or overpayment in these unusual circumstances,” she said. “You don’t want to put people in a worse position because of the aid you’re trying to give them.”