This chart, by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, gets filed under the category “why is this anything other than the Second Great Depression?”
Sure, there are now fewer unemployed workers (11.9 million) than in 2009 (4.3 million), when the official unemployment rate peaked. But in 2009, 9.2 million unemployed workers received unemployment insurance benefits, which left 5.1 million jobless workers with no such benefits—as against today, when there are 6.7 million unemployed workers not receiving unemployment benefits.
As the folks at the CBPP explain,
A smaller share of unemployed workers now receive UI for several reasons. One is the length and depth of the protracted jobs slump, which has left many workers unable to find work before their UI benefits run out. In addition, a number of states have cut the number of weeks of regular, state-funded UI benefits in recent years; these changes also shorten the number of weeks of federal UI benefits a person can subsequently receive.
In addition, the duration of federal UI benefits (which go to long-term unemployed workers) has fallen. This reflects several factors. One is the decline in the official unemployment rate in many states, which itself leads to automatic reductions in the number of weeks of federal UI benefits available in those states. Another factor is federal changes implemented in 2012 in the number of weeks of federal UI benefits provided irrespective of improvements in economic conditions. A third factor is the disappearance from every state except Alaska of another source of long-term UI benefits, the federal Extended Benefits program (which is designed to “trigger on” automatically when a state’s unemployment rate is rising rapidly, but under the same formula, ceases to remain available once unemployment stops rising even if the state continues to experience a long period of severely elevated unemployment).
Thus, in the midst of the Second Great Depression, while the number of unemployed workers has fallen, the number receiving unemployment benefits has fallen faster, which means the number of unemployed workers without benefits has risen.