Up to 14 Million Jobless Americans Shut Out of Unemployment Benefits, Survey Finds

For every 10 Americans who successfully filed unemployment claims during the coronavirus pandemic, at least three or four more have been unable to register at all, primarily due to rampant state-by-state technological problems, a recent survey showed.

Tens of millions of Americans were pushed out of the workforce during the coronavirus lockdown, with U.S. Department of Labor statistics showing that more than 26.5 million people have applied for unemployment benefits since mid-March. A new online survey conducted by the Economic Policy Institute found that between 8.9 million and 13.9 million people were shut out of the unemployment system entirely, citing problems ranging from clogged phone lines to long-outdated state-run computer systems.

Several of the jobless Americans who failed to get through the faulty unemployment benefit network noted to Reuters in a piece published Tuesday that "it's almost set up to fail," with one 48-year-old Florida man remarking, "It was made complicated so people would get discouraged and give up."

The EPI poll of 24,607 U.S. adults between April 13 and April 24 found that 9.4 percent of respondents had successfully applied for unemployment benefits, but about 3.5 percent said they simply never got through a process which included mail, online and phone options. An additional 2 percent of respondents said they did not apply because the process was simply too difficult and plagued with overcrowding issues.

Some state unemployment offices, like those in Pennsylvania, had recently cut staff prior to the pandemic because of the country's improving economy. The U.S. Labor Department reported that state offices had faced in excess of 30 percent reductions in staff since the Great Recession a decade ago. The EPI survey indicates that government unemployment numbers significantly understate U.S. job losses.

"This study validates the anecdotes and news reports we're seeing about people having trouble filing for benefits they need and deserve," the study's lead author, Ben Zipperer, told Reuters Tuesday.

Many state labor offices including those in Georgia and New Jersey had stalled responses as they sought to find staff members who could update computer systems which used decades-old technology, according to TIME magazine. Additionally, the federal government instituted "enhanced unemployment insurance" to aid those laid off or furloughed during the pandemic, which many state offices struggled to factor into their already outdated systems. The enhanced benefits provided laid-off workers with an extra $600 each week and extended coverage to independent contractors and millions of "self employed" job titles.

The state of Nevada set an all-time unemployment high over the past six weeks as around 350,000 state residents filed for benefits — twice the number of jobless claims made during the 2008-09 Great Recession. A Las Vegas-based economic research firm, Applied Analysis, put the number of unemployed Las Vegas residents — a city dominated by non-essential bars, casino and restaurant workers — at 25 percent.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly said he wanted the federal government to handle direct deposits tied to Congress' $2 trillion stimulus package, but states had refused.

"Blame the Democrats for any 'lateness' in your Enhanced Unemployment Insurance. I wanted the money to be paid directly, they insisted it be paid by states for distribution. I told them this would happen, especially with many states which have old computers," he tweeted on April 27.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, about 4,427,000 initial unemployment claims were made in the week ending on April 18. The week prior, 5,237,000 claims for unemployment benefits were filed nationwide.

unemployment claims states problems benefits
For every 10 Americans who successfully filed unemployment claims during the coronavirus pandemic, at least three or four have been unable to register at all due to rampant state-by-state technological problems. JEFF KOWALSKY / Contributor/Getty Images