RALEIGH (February 18, 2021) — This morning the U.S. Department of Labor released the latest weekly data on Unemployment Insurance (UI) claims showing that the number of jobless workers remained elevated and initial claims increased week over week.

Notably of the 1.4 million people who applied for Unemployment Insurance, 861,000 applied for regular state UI, making the state system a first and critical frontline in minimizing the harm of job losses.

More than 8,600 initial claims were filed in North Carolina during the week of February 13th, a reduction from the prior week’s initial claims. Continued claims remain elevated and many jobless workers in North Carolina have moved to federal programs.

“Today’s data in combination with labor market trends show that Unemployment Insurance continues to be a critical support to jobless workers and the economy,” said Bill Rowe, Deputy Director of Advocacy at the North Carolina Justice Center. “While we await federal action to extend the expiring supports in March, there are immediate steps the NC General Assembly can take to make sure our state system is doing the most it can to support households and stabilize families.”

Two weeks ago, Governor Cooper announced a proposal to establish a 26-week duration for the state UI and increase the cap on maximum benefits to better replaces wages for workers who have lost work.

Both are policies that the state is best positioned to make and are unlikely to be addressed in upcoming federal packages.

  • Moving the maximum duration to 26 weeks, like most states — rather than tying duration to the state’s unemployment rate, which is a limited measure of jobs available — would remove the inequities facing jobless workers who lost work at the start of the pandemic. It would also level the playing field for our state in the effort to secure a strong recovery by ensuring that all jobless workers in North Carolina receive closer to the same level of support as most jobless workers in other states.
  • Establishing a cap on maximum benefit amounts at $500 or 50 percent of the average weekly wages in North Carolina would ensure people who have lost work receive the level of wage replacement that economists recommend. In doing so, this would position the state’s UI system to better stabilize spending and, in turn, the economy.

Recent analysis by Patrick McHugh shows many North Carolinians had already exhausted state UI benefits by the end of last year before anything close to a full employment recovery had been reached, dramatically increasing reliance on federal benefits. Continuing on this path threatens to undermine our recovery and create even deeper economic harm for North Carolina families.

“North Carolina’s short duration is reducing the positive impacts of Unemployment Insurance and driving up the number of people who are losing state UI before they can get back to work,” said Alexandra Sirota, Director of Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “Moving to 26 weeks rather than the arbitrary sliding scale that is currently North Carolina’s policy could provide a level of support equivalent to two rent payments and thus is critical to stopping the harmful ripple effects of job loss to families and communities.”