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Citing fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Labor reported a spike Thursday in unemployment claims.

Some 281,000 people filed for unemployment insurance last week. That is 16,500 more cases, compared to the previous 4-week average, a nearly 6% increase.

“The increase in initial unemployment claims are clearly attributable to impacts from the Covid-19 virus,” the report said. “A number of states specifically cited Covid-19 related layoffs, while many states reported increased layoffs in service-related industries broadly and in the accommodation and food services industries specifically, as well as in the transportation and warehousing industry.”

A sparsely occupied Grand Central Station appears at midday on Wednesday, March 18, 2020 in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
The highest spike in claims came from California, followed by Washington state — weeks after both states celebrated record low unemployment rates below 4%.

For California’s Employment Development Department, spokesman Barry White noted that the impact will be reflected in the state’s next report due out March 26.

“As you can imagine, the EDD is currently experiencing a large increase in claims filed in our programs and have staff working overtime to keep up with the demand,” White said in an email, abbreviating the name of the agency. “We are working to redirect other staff, and hire additional staff, as much as possible to assist with the claim filing process.

“The EDD encourages Californians to use our online services as much as possible for fastest processing. But you should be aware that it always takes a least a few weeks to process and pay benefits to those found eligible,” he added.

Once an individual makes a claim for unemployment, the office determines if the person is eligible. Eligibility for benefits differs by state, industry, and circumstance.

Washington state’s advice is to exhaust private remedies first through an individual’s employer.

“The first and best option for employees who need to miss work due to illness is to use their employer-paid time off,” advised the Washington State Employment Security Department in a release. “If you are following guidance issued by a medical professional or public health official to isolate or quarantine yourself as a result of exposure to Covid-19 and you are not receiving paid sick leave from your employer, you may be eligible to receive unemployment benefits.”

Even with increased support, benefits often take several weeks to process in the Evergreen State as well.

This is just the beginning, according to an analysis released by the Economic Policy Institute, which estimated Thursday that America will lose 3 million jobs by June.

“Expectations of just how many jobs will be lost are rapidly evolving,” researchers explained in the report.

“Still, workers in certain industries will be disproportionately affected — in particular, workers in food service, accommodations, and brick-and-mortar retail.”

The report estimates Nevada and Hawaii will be hit the hardest with job losses averaging 5%. Washington, D.C., has the lowest anticipated loss.

In preparation for changing job markets, Colorado launched a specific webpage to provide support and guidance to workers who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

On March 17, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment reported experiencing unprecedented traffic to the claims call center and online claim-filing system. Claims in the Centennial State rose from 400 on March 9 to 6,800 on March 17.

This immediately followed orders from Colorado Governor Jared Polis on March 16 banning large public events, shuttering bars, and even halting ski lifts.

“The department is implementing system maintenance to accommodate unprecedented demand and increase capacity and stability,” Polis’ office said in a statement.

“The department is also encouraging workers who are experiencing a temporary or permanent reduction in hours or wages to consider part-time employment in other industries seeing an increase in demand for goods or services, such as delivery, logistics, transportation, healthcare or retail such as grocery stores and warehouses,” the governor’s office said.

— By Amanda Pampuro, CNS

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