An abundance of data underscores the nation’s economic distress. But the number of Americans receiving unemployment benefits remains something of an educated guess.
The figure almost certainly exceeds 20 million, but issues with data collection make a precise accounting difficult.
More than 17 million people were receiving state benefits the first week of July, a figure that does not include those who filed first-time claims last week or those receiving benefits under a federal extension because their state benefits have expired.
The Labor Department says that as of late June — the most recent period measured — an additional 14 million people were tapping into Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program to aid freelancers, the self-employed and others ordinarily ineligible for state jobless benefits. But those numbers have been plagued by double-counting and other issues, and most economists think the true number is probably lower.
Still, there is little doubt that tens of millions of people are receiving benefits. The number has been gradually falling, but that progress could soon reverse. Weekly data collected by the Census Bureau as part of a new experimental survey suggests that the number of Americans who are working has fallen by about 2.6 million since mid-June.