363,000 Tennessee workers laid off in 2021 — with two months to go
Pace of business layoffs still more than double pre-pandemic levels under Gov. Bill Lee’s economic approach
NASHVILLE — New federal data shows that 363,000 Tennesseans have filed claims for unemployment in 2021 and the current pace that businesses are laying off workers is more than double pre-pandemic rates.
For comparison: In all of 2019, the year preceding the coronavirus pandemic, just 135,000 Tennesseans filed for unemployment insurance benefits due to being laid off their job through no fault of their own.
In the 24 weeks leading up to the spike in pandemic-related layoffs, an average of 2,600 Tennesseans were filing jobless claims each week.
Looking back 24 weeks from today’s report, the average of number of weekly unemployment claims from Tennessee workers is 5,600 — more than double the pre-pandemic rate.
The troubling trend in layoffs is a clear sign the economy is not back to normal — despite Gov. Bill Lee’s recent claims of a “strong economic recovery.”
Lee’s decisions hinder public health, economic rebound
In fact, decisions made by the Lee administration have contributed to a slower recovery for families, says Tennessee Sen. Heidi Campbell (D-Nashville). For instance:
- May: Gov. Lee’s decision to opt Tennessee out of our share of federal unemployment assistance cost the state economy $486 million, according to one report. That’s money that would have been spent on groceries, utilities and bills, the report said.
- July: The Lee administration fired its top vaccine official amid complaints from GOP lawmakers that the doctor was doing too much to get eligible children vaccinated against Covid-19. At just 48% fully vaccinated, Tennessee remains among the least vaccinated states in the nation.
- August: Gov. Lee signed an executive order requiring public school systems to let parents opt out of mask rules. Not coincidentally, Tennessee led the nation in school closures related to Covid-19 earlier this year.
The governor’s disregard for out-of-work parents and public health measures to curb the pandemic has had negative consequences for the state economy, Sen. Campbell says.
“Here’s what the governor refuses to understand: the health of our economy depends on the health of our people,” said Sen. Campbell. “The governor has always had it backward. If we want our state economy roaring again, our workers and businesses need freedom from Covid-19.”
Layoffs create obvious problems for families that lose the economic security of a good paycheck, but it can be especially hard on working mothers who are weighing their options for returning to the workforce.
Even as some employers are paying increased wages and offering incentives to lure back workers, that’s still not enough if employees, for example, can’t find affordable child care.
According to The Brookings Institution, women have borne both the brunt of involuntary job loss since the pandemic began and shouldered more the caregiving burden:
“Mothers took leave, and were more likely than fathers to drop out of the labor force. They increased their time spent on child care and were more likely than fathers to help children with education. It was not only mothers who faced an increase in caregiving: two out of every three caregivers in the United States are women, providing support not only to children, but also to adults with chronic illnesses or disabilities.”
The number of initial claims for unemployment insurance in Tennessee totaled 5,442 in the week ending Oct. 30, an increase of 656 claims from the previous week. To qualify for jobless benefits, workers must have been laid off through no fault of their own.
According to the report, 21,000 Tennesseans are receiving unemployment insurance payments.
But that number only represents a fraction of the total number of people who are out of work. The latest monthly data shows there are 147,000 people in the state who are unemployed — roughly 4.4% of the workforce.