Missouri is on track this year to hit the lowest number of people claiming to be unemployed since 2011.
In the last nine years, the number of people filing unemployment claims with the state hit its peak in 2012 at more than 613,000 Missourians.
There was a steady decline after that, spiking slightly in 2017, before continuing to drop.
“The particular trends you’re looking at is a large function of the fact that we had the most extreme recession between 2008 and 2009. The economy has been picking up gradually since then,” said Peter Mueser, economics professor at MU.
Mueser classifies himself as a labor economist. He studies the workings of the labor market, especially as it relates to the people at the bottom of the income distribution.
As of August, nearly 75,000 people said they were unemployed and in need of state assistance. That’s an average of about 9,000 people per month, and at that rate, about 112,000 people would be looking for unemployment benefits by the end of the year.
That’s a decrease of over 60% from the number of Missourians unemployed in 2018: 292,714 people.
So what’s contributing to the decline?
“It’s almost certainly the economy,” Mueser said. “The national unemployment rate is at the lowest in years.”
The U.S. Department of Labor is reporting a similar trend. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national rate of unemployment, as of September, was 3.5%. That’s the lowest it’s been since 2009.
With the successful economy, though, comes some legislative and government policy changes. On Dec. 4, the Trump administration announced it would limit states from allowing people to receive food stamps without maintaining steady employment, according to The Associated Press.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said, “States may request to waive the time limit in areas with an unemployment rate above 10% or where there are ‘not sufficient jobs’ … With today’s strong economy, that could include areas with unemployment rates of under 5% — a rate normally considered to be full employment.”
The Missouri legislature made a move this year to also change work requirements for Missourians to be eligible for state unemployment benefits.
In August, Senate Bill 90 went into effect as law. It made a statutory requirement that Missourians report at least three things they did each week to search for work, in order to be eligible for weekly benefits.
According to previous Missourian reporting in 2017, legislation was making its way through the state House of Representatives that would apply a sliding scale to how long people could collect unemployment benefits.
It did not become law that session. It was the third attempt by lawmakers in four legislative sessions, part of a larger effort to change the welfare threshold in Missouri over the last decade.
The goal of the 2017 bill was to save money for Missouri’s Unemployment Trust Fund and decrease borrowing of federal money, according to previous Missourian reporting.
Opposition didn’t want to cut the benefits from those who need them, a similar criticism to other welfare changes.
Mueser said the work requirements for Senate Bill 90 this year may deter some people, as finding three job opportunities does take time and energy. He said there is evidence that when people are receiving benefits, they’re less likely to get a job. When they reach the end of their benefits cycle, the likelihood of getting a job goes up.
Overall, Mueser said, “People are more comfortable leaving a job because they know they can find another. Employers are less likely to lay people off because they can’t find replacements.”