WASHINGTON (AP) — Far more Americans are receiving unemployment benefits than the last time the jobless rate was at the current 6.1%, thanks to a major expansion of the federal safety net that has provided aid to millions of people out of work.
Yet many businesses and Republican officials say all that jobless aid has contributed to worker shortages in some industries, which is why most GOP-led states are moving to cut off the federal support.
About 15.8 million people received unemployment aid through one of several benefit programs during the week of May 8, the latest period for which data is available, according to a Labor Department report Thursday. That’s nearly eight times as many people as received jobless payments in August 2014, when the unemployment rate was where it is now and roughly the same proportion of adults had jobs.
The primary reason for the expansion is that the government created two emergency programs in last spring's pandemic relief legislation. About three-quarters of all unemployment beneficiaries — nearly 12 million people — are receiving aid through one of those federal programs. One of them provides payments to the self-employed and gig workers, who had never been eligible for jobless aid before. The other program benefits people who have been unemployed for more than six months. Both are scheduled to end Sept. 6.
Yet 20 states have announced this month that they will cut off the emergency aid early, beginning as soon as June 12, according to an Associated Press analysis, including Texas, Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina. As a result, about 2.5 million people will lose all their unemployment benefits by early July. Those states are also ending an extra $300 weekly federal payment to the unemployed.
Four other states, including Florida...