Nearly 4 Million Americans Have Been Jobless for at Least 6 Months

by Maurie Backman | Updated July 25, 2021 - First published on Feb. 1, 2021

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A line of people standing in front of a building labeled Job Center.

Image source: Getty Images

It just goes to show that the damage from the pandemic is far from over.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit hard in March of 2020, millions of people lost jobs in the course of weeks, and April's unemployment rate hit a record high. Thankfully, the jobless rate has declined, but that doesn't mean the problem has gone away. In fact, nearly 4 million Americans are still unemployed six months after losing their jobs. These people represent more than 37% of unemployed Americans, and they make a strong case for added relief during an economic crisis unlike any other.

Jobless workers need help

Many jobless Americans have exhausted their savings in the course of the pandemic and are left relying on what little they receive in unemployment benefits. But those benefits aren't replacing workers' full paychecks, even with the $300 weekly boost currently in place.

President Joe Biden recently revealed the details of his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, and it includes substantial aid for the jobless. Specifically, Biden is calling for a $400 weekly boost to unemployment -- $100 more than the current boost -- plus extended benefits through September. Currently, extended benefits are set to run out in March.

Biden is also pushing to send $1,400 stimulus checks to the public as part of his relief package. Some lawmakers are calling for that aid to be more targeted -- saying it should only go to those who are out of work. Meanwhile, other lawmakers have pushed back against boosted unemployment, claiming it disincentivizes workers to return to a job (though to be fair, data shows that most jobless workers continued to look for work while unemployed).

The CARES Act, the relief package passed in March of 2020, gave unemployed workers a $600 weekly boost in jobless benefits through the end of July. Under that setup, many unemployed people did, in fact, get a raise on unemployment.

Biden's proposal, on the other hand, won't result in the typical jobless worker getting a raise. However, his proposal could replace 86% of lost wages for the average unemployed individual -- not a bad thing, given how long the current crisis has raged.

Of course, Biden needs the support of Congress to move his relief plan forward. In the meantime, he's already taken steps to boost food benefits so that struggling households can feed themselves in the absence of regular paychecks. He's also put protections in place so that jobless workers aren't forced to accept positions that put their health at risk.

As for those who remain jobless after six months, the best many can do right now is to keep looking and to network extensively in the hopes of finding opportunities. Some workers, unfortunately, may need to take lower-paying jobs to get an income and benefits. In fact, when we talk about unemployment benefits, it's easy to forget that many people who lose their jobs also lose their health coverage. There may be a good 4 million Americans right now forced to go without health coverage -- for both themselves and their families -- at a time when that's so overwhelmingly dangerous. And that means they're surely motivated to find work -- once it's out there. Until then, however, they're going to need all the aid they can get.

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