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Federal unemployment benefits expire, strongly affecting filers with high school diploma or less
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Federal unemployment benefits expire, strongly affecting filers with high school diploma or less

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Cowlitz County jobless claims by industry

Most of the top five industries of local PUA unemployment filers, as of Aug. 28, don't typically require advanced degrees. PUA, or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, is one of two federal unemployment programs that expired Sunday.

The more than 2,000 Cowlitz County residents who filed for continued federal unemployment benefits as of Aug. 28 likely will not receive checks next month as federal pandemic relief for the unemployed has ended. Many filers do not have college degrees and often hold lower-paying jobs.

The federal government ended its 17-month expansion of unemployment over the Labor Day weekend, leaving thousands of people in Cowlitz County — including at least 38% of filers without college degrees — no longer qualified to receive benefits. Exact numbers in the decrease in filers will be available next month, the state said.

The federal government expanded unemployment requirements in March 2020 as businesses closed to protect the public from COVID-19. People with high school degrees or less have been the hardest hit.

Job availability by degree

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports people with a high school diploma or less faced more job cuts during the pandemic than those with college degrees. Before the pandemic, the unemployment gap between people with high school degrees or less and a bachelor’s degree or more was about 2%, but from February to May 2020, the gap rose 12 percentage points, the federal government reports.

According to the Washington State Employment Security Department, roughly 337 more Cowlitz County residents whose highest education level is a high school degree filed for PUA benefits as of Aug. 28 than residents with bachelor’s degrees or higher. PUA, or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, is one of two federal unemployment programs that expired Sunday, reports the state.

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Disproportional job cuts

People with a high school degree or less have been disproportionately unemployed during the pandemic compared to the same group in the labor force, reports the state and federal government.

If the pandemic’s job loss affected education levels the same, Washington State Economist Scott Bailey said the number of Cowlitz County residents with high school degrees or less filing unemployment claims would mirror that amount of people in the labor force. However, that is not the case.

The state reports 41% of Cowlitz County residents with high school degrees or less filed for unemployment claims in July, compared to 28% of Cowlitz County residents with high school degrees or less in the labor force. Conversely, 9% of county residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher filed for unemployment claims in July, compared to 17% of county residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher in the labor force.

Local education levels

Cowlitz County had a small percentage of college graduates before the pandemic. The state reports 15% of residents 25 years old and older had bachelor’s degrees or higher in 2019, which was less than half the national average.

Education level affects the amount of money earned and job availability. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as higher educational degrees are obtained, median weekly earnings increase and unemployment rates decrease.

Lower Columbia College in Longview offers bachelor degrees, associate degrees and technical certificates. President Chris Bailey said associate degree graduates earn an average of $8,000 more a year than high school graduates. Obtaining a degree also adds job security.

“The more education you have, the less likely you are to be out of work,” he said.

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