Despite Gov. Bill Lee's stated belief that the removal of additional unemployment assistance would "help move people to full employment," Tennessee's first week without the additional benefits (Jul. 4-10) saw the highest number of first-time unemployment claims since June 5, according to a Monday release from the Tennessee Dept. of Labor.
On May 8, Lee announced his plans to end Tennessee's participation in federal pandemic unemployment programs effective July 3.
Those programs, which will still remain in effect through Sept. 6 for states whose leaders have not chosen to opt out, include an additional $300 in weekly unemployment assistance per week, as well as expanded unemployment assistance eligibility for gig workers and others not typically eligible for such assistance.
While participation in the federal programs did not see states incur any additional cost burdens, Lee touted the decision as an incentive for Tennesseans to rejoin the workforce, sharing anecdotes of small businesses struggling to employ workers.
Yet despite Lee's position that the removal of additional assistance may help entice workers back into the labor market, the first week without such benefits saw the highest number of first-time unemployment claims since June 5.
6,744 file for unemployment for their first time
Last week between Jul. 4-10, a total of 6,744 Tennesseans filed for unemployment assistance for their first time. This marks an increase from the previous week's 6,497, as well as represents the highest such weekly figure since June 5 when 7,841 Tennesseans filed for unemployment assistance for their first time.
Other than the week ending on June 5, the last time weekly first-time unemployment claims exceeded 6,744 was during the week ending on May 15.
It remains to be seen whether or not Lee's plan to opt out of federal unemployment assistance programs will help reduce the number of unemployed Tennesseans in the long term. However, the first week of unemployment data following the state's axing of additional benefits suggests it may not have the intended effect.