On Today’s Initial Unemployment Insurance Claims Report

Following is a statement from Michele Evermore, senior researcher and policy analyst with the National Employment Law Project:

“As expected from the COVID-19 outbreak and ensuing quarantines and layoffs, initial claims numbers are up markedly from last week. Last week’s initial claims were 211,000, down from the week prior. Today’s numbers mark a 70,000 increase in initial claims to 281,000. Last week, as the outbreak became a pandemic, states began issuing guidance in response to quarantines, closures, and workers beginning social distancing practices that have had a major effect on local business.

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“This data does not reflect the large surge in claims at the start of this week reported to have jammed up online filing systems and phone lines. In fact, the surge in new unemployment claims in today’s report is but a prelude to the tsunami we are expecting next week and in subsequent weeks.

“Fortunately, Congress passed a massive influx of $1 billion in administrative funding to help states begin to staff up and bolster technical systems as claims continue to pour in. As part of this package, states are incentivized to adopt important emergency provisions to help workers access benefits, including waiving work-search requirements and waiting weeks, and making sure employee use of unemployment insurance does not count against their employer.

“Because states have been making the availability of benefits for workers affected by the COVID-19 outbreak clear and public, claims rates are even higher than would be expected in any other economic downturn of this proportion. Making sure workers can access benefits right away means more money is flowing to help stabilize the economy. As news of federal incentives to smooth application processes spreads, we expect these numbers to continue to increase.

“As COVID-19 continues to spread and exposes communities that are particularly vulnerable—including workers without telecommute options, and workers in the restaurant, grocery, and retail industries—our focus should be on paying benefits to all displaced workers as quickly as possible. Many states are leading the way on waiving onerous requirements, and federal assistance for claims processing is on the way.

“We will no doubt see staggering initial claims data in the weeks to come. What should be of greatest concern is the economic malpractice that has left the nation unprepared for the current situation. Our system and economic strength hinges on workers accessing the unemployment benefits that they have earned.”

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