Historically high: Jobless claims vs Great Recession

New unemployment claims are trending down, but still rising and in the latest week were still nearly as high as the worst week of the Great Recession.

The pace of new unemployment claims slowed in Iowa to 13,040 for the week ending May 16, but still nearly as high as new claims in the worst week of the Great Recession. Meanwhile, the running total of new claims since mid-March — at 313,150 — is about 18 percent of Iowa’s entire labor force.

On top of that, Iowa has slowly begun to process claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), the federally funded benefits for those ineligible for regular UI. In the week ending May 9, there were 15,219 Iowans on continuing PUA claims and 4,552 new applications.

The PUA has enormous potential for the self-employed, independent contractors, platform or “gig” workers, and new entrants to the labor force. It pays a weekly benefit of between $200 and $590 (depending on earnings and dependents). Once approved, recipients can received up to 39 weeks of benefits — retroactive to early February and running through December. Receipt of PUA benefits brings with it another $600 month in Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC), the federal top-off that runs through the last week of July.

All of this is funded entirely with federal dollars — making it an important source of economic stimulus for the state as well.

But the rollout of the PUA has been slow. Initial applicants were summarily rejected by Iowa Workforce Development and the first payments did not trickle out until almost two months after the program was put in place. And the number of new and continuing PUA claims in Iowa (just under 20,000) as of this morning is very low given the number of Iowans that could benefit from this program (taken together, those reporting some form of self-employment income and new entrants probably account for about 20 percent of the labor force). Under normal conditions, Iowa pays unemployment claims to only about 41 percent of the unemployed. The PUA could and should extend that coverage dramatically.

Colin Gordon is senior research consultant for the Iowa Policy Project and a professor of history at the University of Iowa.

Another 25K Iowans file unemployment claims

At a moment when going back to work poses grave public health risks, it is in our best interests to be generous in determining eligibility for benefits.

In the week ending May 2, another 24,693 Iowans applied for unemployment insurance. That brings the total new claims for unemployment insurance, over the last seven weeks, to 285,741.

Iowa’s insured unemployment rate (the share of the labor force receiving unemployment benefits, which does not include this week’s new claims) is now 11 percent. Since mid-March almost 1 in 5 Iowa workers (more than 18 percent of the non-farm labor force) have filed an unemployment claim.

This total does not include those who have dropped out of the labor force. It does not include those unable to access our overwhelmed unemployment insurance application system.

And it does not include those discouraged from even applying by Iowa Workforce Development’s chilling “get back to work” directive. The outcry against that directive — so clearly at odds with both Iowa law and the unemployment crisis at hand — has forced IWD to soften its tone. The “FAQ” for workers on IWD’s website now acknowledges that unsafe working conditions, and the failure of employers to provide adequate protection, constitute valid reasons for leaving a job and claiming benefits.

As the jobs crisis deepens, we need to remember that unemployment insurance is intended as a safety net, as a means of sustaining incomes through periods of both personal misfortune and broader economic troubles.

We are at a moment when going back to work poses grave public health risks, and when the federal government has stepped up to cover most of the costs. Under these conditions, it is in our best interests to be generous in the determination of eligibility for benefits — and to let Iowa workers displaced by this crisis make the right decision for themselves, for their families, and for their communities.

Colin Gordon is senior reearch consultant for the Iowa Policy Project, and a professor of history at the University of Iowa.

Good start on Iowa unemployment insurance in health emergency

Actions by the state are welcome news. The four-week break in the legislative session is a good opportunity to look for other ways to strengthen the system to protect working families.

With widespread layoffs anticipated or already occurring in key sectors of the state’s economy, it is welcome news that the state has relaxed eligibility standards for receiving unemployment insurance benefits. In our IPP blogs of March 14 and March 15 we identified key changes that states could make fully in accord with U.S. Department of Labor guidance for increasing program flexibility to deal with the pandemic.

On Monday, Governor Kim Reynolds announced key changes by Iowa Workforce Development to the state’s UI system that align with these recommendations:

•    Work search requirements are waived for individuals filing an unemployment insurance claim as a result of COVID-19.

•    Individuals who have to leave their job because they are ill, because they are self-isolating due to exposure to COVID-19 or because they are caring for an ill family member, or because the business has shut down due to COVID-19 will be eligible for UI as long as they meet other standard requirements — having worked for six of the last 18 months and earned at least $2,500 during that period. Workers are expected to utilize sick days, paid leave, or telecommuting options if they are available.

•    Employers will not be charged for any employee receiving COVID-19 related unemployment benefits; i.e, their future insurance rates will not be raised.

Employees wanting to find more information on these provisions or to determine if their particular situation qualifies can find some answers on the Iowa Workforce Development website here.

The U.S. Department of Labor also reminded states that two other forms of flexibility may be helpful in the current situation: waiving the one-week waiting period before receiving benefits and establishing a Short Time Compensation (STC) program. Fortunately, Iowa does not have a waiting period, and already has an STC program called Voluntary Shared Work. The latter program allows the employer to reduce work hours for several employees instead of laying off a smaller number, with the employees then eligible for partial UI benefits to replace most of the wages lost due to reduced hours.

Voluntary Shared Work can be an important tool for employers and employees alike, allowing the business to keep trained workers and allowing more workers to retain their employment connection. In order to utilize the shared work provisions, an employer must apply. Employers who have not yet instituted work sharing should be encouraged to do so; they can find more information from Iowa Workforce Development here.

These actions by Iowa Workforce Development are welcome news. Federal emergency legislation just passed may provide additional flexibility to states.

The four-week break in the state legislative session is a good opportunity to look for other ways to strengthen the state system to protect working families who are affected in the current emergency. That will help the Iowa economy to come out stronger on the other side of the crisis.

Peter Fisher is research director of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project.

pfisher@iowapolicyproject.org

Finding closure on the job count

Not only are the actual job increases about half of what the Governor had hoped — but even his own “gross” counting method leaves him short, at 184,000.

For years, we had to watch Governor Branstad’s bogus job count tracked on the official nonfarm jobs spreadsheets provided by Iowa Workforce Development.

Basic RGBYou might remember: The Governor set a goal for 200,000 new jobs in five years. We didn’t come close — 104,500 net new jobs from January 2011 through January 2016. Everyone wants new jobs, but it was clear for a long time the goal was unrealistic.

And it was a distraction for those of us who work with such data carefully, as we do each month in our Iowa JobWatch report.
Nevertheless, the Governor’s people concocted a way to count jobs that no elementary arithmetic teacher would sanction — leave out the job losses. So IWD added a line to the official sheet, for “Gross Over-the-month Employment Gains.” And that way, the Governor claimed, he made it with a couple of months to spare.

In fact, at IWD’s budget hearing in November, the Governor asked IWD Director Beth Townsend to back up her slideshow to bolster the claim with the media present.

A few months later, it looks like we should back up that slideshow once again. The jobs data have now gone through their regular annual review, and the numbers show something different.

Not only are the actual job increases about half of what the Governor had hoped — but even his own “gross” counting method leaves him short, at 184,000.

Yes, we all want more jobs in Iowa, better jobs, more sustained job growth. But we also want the facts treated properly. Is it too much to ask for the Governor or IWD to acknowledge publicly that the “mission accomplished” claims were wrong?

When we see the news release, we’ll be sure to pass it along.
Owen-2013-57Posted by Mike Owen, Executive Director of the Iowa Policy Project
mikeowen@iowapolicyproject.org

Different goals for progress on Iowa jobs

Depending on which goal you choose, we’re anywhere from 4,100 to 155,100 from meeting it.

David Osterberg
David Osterberg

The graph below offers one way — actually, four ways — to look at the latest nonfarm job numbers in the context of history and job goals for Iowa.

As of February, we’re 4,100 behind where we were at the start of the recession in December 2007, and 7,200 behind Iowa’s peak nonfarm job level in May 2008.

However, Economic Policy Institute analysis suggests that those historical numbers don’t give an apples-to-apples picture for how well the economy is producing jobs to meet the demand for jobs — that you need to factor in growth in the population. When that is done, Iowa still has 60,900 to go to reach where we were before the recession.

Yet another number to consider is Governor Branstad’s goal of creating 200,000 jobs in five years. Since his term started in January 2011, Iowa has produced a net total of 44,900 jobs, which works out to a pace of 1,800 net new jobs per month. At that pace, the state is well off what is necessary to reach the Governor’s goal — 4,400 per month for the remaining 35 months of the five-year period.

Inline image 1

As we point out in our monthly Iowa JobWatch report, the overall job numbers do not tell the full story about the job climate in our state. One thing those monthly numbers do not disclose is any detail about job quality — whether jobs gained or lost are full-time or part-time jobs, or are permanent or temporary positions, or pay well, or offer health and/or retirement benefits.

For more, see our latest Iowa JobWatch report and also The State of Working Iowa 2012.

Posted by David Osterberg, Executive Director

Scrap the political math

The Governor is using political math, not real math.

At the Iowa Policy Project, we are pretty careful about the way we count. The way we use numbers reflects on our credibility as an independent, nonpartisan resource for all Iowans, no matter their political stripe. It is important for our state’s political debates to be fought on a foundation of facts, so that our leaders can better debate the issues on their merits, rather than political spin. That is why we’re here at the Iowa Policy Project.

We also have counted since our earliest days on the work of Colin Gordon, a professor of history at the University of Iowa and IPP’s senior research consultant. Colin is author of our annual State of Working Iowa report — he offered an innovative twist on it this year with interactive graphs that you can try out for yourself at www.stateofworkingiowa.org — and like the rest of us at IPP, he was disturbed to see Iowa job data being distorted in recent days by, of all sources, the Governor’s Office. The Governor in his Condition of the State address Tuesday used an inflated number to tout progress on Iowa jobs. He is choosing to count only jobs gained, not those lost. This is political math, not real math.

Gordon wrote about it today in The Des Moines Register. In the piece, Gordon notes that using the Governor’s approach to math, Iowa could have a $6 billion surplus. “Why not just count the revenues?” he asked. Excerpt:

And, of course, the governor’s political opponents could offer up a number of “gross jobs lost” since January 2011 — a measure (about 56,000 lost jobs) that would be just as impressive, and just as silly. …

In the bigger picture, these job numbers are not even shaped much by state policy, by what governors do or do not do. Jobs are won or lost by national economic conditions. States can try to pirate jobs or investment from other states, but the only sustained impact of state policy is on the quality of state jobs. Higher labor standards and better investments in education are places to make that impact.

Iowa’s leaders can move these discussions forward constructively, but that starts with ending the politicization of basic economic data, as the governor’s staff has done with numbers on job growth.

Posted by Mike Owen