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The record number of people applying for jobless benefits is even worse than it looks


Jeffry Bartash

The Labor Department on Thursday reported another 3.2 million unemployed workers applied for jobless benefits in early May, bringing the total during the coronavirus pandemic to 33.5 million in seven weeks.

Turns out it’s an under-count — by at least 2.5 million and probably a lot more.

States are just starting to report the number of new claims filed by people such as gig workers, freelance writers and independent contractors who previously were ineligible for benefits. An emergency-relief law passed by Congress last month loosened eligibility standards and allowed these workers to qualify for benefits for the very first time.

The states aren’t bundling these newly eligible applicants into their overall totals of new claims, however. They have put them in a different category that is reported separately.

Consider the most recent week ended May 2. The Labor Department said initial jobless claims filed through normal state guidelines totaled 3.2 million. Yet they reported that an additional 583,699 people applied through the so-called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program set up by the federal government.

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