Unemployment Recovery Report in Nine Charts – September

John Courtney | President
September 10, 2020


This past week’s jobs and unemployment reports suggest solid movement toward recovery, but an increase in unemployment claims. Specifically, the U.S. saw: 1) a significant drop in the unemployment rate to 8.4%, 2) a slight growth in the number of unemployed who are “job seekers,” 3) a continuation of regular initial unemployment claims under one million, 4) a jump in initial Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claims filed and PUA weeks paid and 5) a 10% increase in job openings to a level matching 2017 openings.

Below, we’ve developed nine charts using U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) data to present a balanced view of U.S. unemployment. Each indicatori has limitations, but taken together they present an insightful picture.

Unemployment Insurance (UI) Claims Filed, Caseload & Unemployment Rate

Initial regular unemployment insurance (UI) claims remained under one million again at 857,148 for the week ending September 5th, but PUA claims grew 71% over the prior four weeks to 838,916.

While continued regular UI claims dropped 17% over the four weeks leading to August 22nd, continued PUA claims grew sharply by 71%, to drive a 4-week increase of 28% in total continued UI claims, due in part to data anomalies.ii In particular, recent analysis again suggests the count of weeks paid does not match the number of people claiming benefits on a 1-to-1 basis. This appears to be due to multiple backlogged claim weeks being paid and counted in the same week, fraudulent claim schemes and other unusual situations.

The last measure above is again encouraging. The unemployment rate marked another significant drop, falling month-over-month from 10.2% to 8.4%.

Unemployed People by Duration & Temporary vs. Permanent

A new addition to this report examines workers by duration of unemployment. The second chart above depicts a growing number of “Medium-Term” unemployed as March and April laid-off employees reached four months unemployed in July and August. How states assist and engage these workers as they head toward long-term unemployment in September and October will be important to watch.

The “Unemployed People – By Type” chart above shows an encouraging 33% drop in the number of “Temporary” laid-off workers, shown in orange. Fortunately, the movement from temporary to permanent unemployment (permanently lost a job or completed temporary job) has increased permanent numbers only marginally from mid-July to mid-August—from 7.1 million to 7.4 million.

As of mid-August, most of the unemployment continues to be temporary. Sixty percent of workers who’d lost a job or completed a temporary job said it was due to a temporary layoff.

Job Seekers, Openings and Hires

The last set of charts compare the number of job seekers to job opportunity data. The number of total unemployed workers who are true “job seekers” (those who permanently lost jobs, quit or entered or reentered the workforce)iii rose 3.4% month-over-month to 7.4 million in mid-August.

Meanwhile end-of-July job openingsiv climbed 10.3% to 6.6 million, matching the average level of openings in 2017, eight years into the recovery from our last recession. Compared to the end of the Great Recession, we have roughly the same number of total unemployed,v but nearly three times as many job openings (6.6 vs. 2.3 million). Confirming the trend, August 24th data from online job site Glassdoor shows online postings are just 17% below their pre-pandemic level, compared to a low of 27% off at the start of June.vi

State Opportunity to Engage Those in Need

In September, workers laid off at the pandemic’s start are beginning to reaching long-term unemployment—six months unemployed. Fortunately the number of job openings relative to job seekers continues to improve, providing fertile ground for states to consider ending work search waivers – at least for UI claimants who are permanently laid off. As more states follow the trend to re-engage claimants in work search many will also find it critical to modernize their work search requirements and activities to better match a more virtual COVID-19-altered job market.


John Courtney is President of the American Institute for Full Employment, whose team of consultants has worked with more than 25 states and Congress to develop evidence-based reemployment solutions in unemployment insurance, welfare and workforce programs for the past 25 years. For help assessing your state’s reemployment or evidence-based RESEA program, contact the Institute at info@fullemployment.org or visit fullemployment.org.


iAll data is presented in thousands and the only data not seasonally adjusted is the Initial and Continued UI Claim data.
iiDOL’s Continued UI Claims includes the following UI claim types: Regular State, Federal Employees, Newly Discharged Veterans, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, Pandemic Emergency UC, Extended Benefits, State Additional Benefits and STC/Workshare.iiiIn the Total “Job Seekers” chart, “Other” includes “Reentrants” and “New Entrants” into the job market.
ivFor better comparative data, this report now uses seasonally adjusted data for job openings.
vComparing July 2020 to July 2009 Great Recession data shows unemployed workers of 13.5 vs. 14.6 million.
viMarch 13, 2020 is used here as the start of the Pandemic’s impacts on this data.