The blistering pace of new unemployment filings in the U.S. continued last week when another 6.6 million people applied for financial support, according to numbers released Thursday morning by the U.S. Department of Labor.
It’s a figure that brings the country’s three-week total to roughly 16.8 million claims as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on medical systems and the economy. Roughly 10% of U.S. workers have lost their jobs in the past three weeks the fastest and largest decline on record dating back to 1948.
In Colorado, initial claims volume last week slowed down from the record-shattering 61,538 filed during the week ending March 28. Still, the 46,065 people who filed last week is the second-highest total on record, per the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.
Over the last three weeks, 127,393 people have filed claims in the state, according to the CDLE Just 102,000 people did so over the entirety of 2019, state labor economist Ryen Gedney said last week. The state paid out $29.8 million in benefits last week alone.
The volume of initial claims making their way through the state’s filing systems shot up in recent weeks after the labor department added staff in its call center and set guidelines asking people to only apply online on certain days to lighten the load. But the landslide of need has led to a backlog of another sort. A number of people approved for benefits have reported they have not received the personal identification numbers needed to access their accounts and start receiving payments.
Denver resident Scott Moser was approved for benefits on March 17 after being furloughed from his job as a hotel bartender. His PIN still had not arrived as of Thursday afternoon, he said.
After calling into the state’s 303-318-9000 payroll insurance line upward of 60 times over the last few weeks, he finally got through Thursday and was told his PIN should have arrived on March 19. The number is being rushed out to him. Moser said he was told that if he had not alerted the state that his number was missing before Saturday he would have had to reapply.
“I am basically a sitting duck if May 1 comes along (and) I don’t have the funds for rent and a car payment and insurance and other things,” Moser said. “Honestly, it’s really frustrating for a government office. Particularly for unemployment, this is supposed to be their Super Bowl. This is when they’re supposed to step up and I have nowhere to turn to.”
The PINs are typically sent through the mail. As of Saturday, that manual process has been replaced with an electronic one relying on emails and robocalls, Cher Haavind, the state labor department’s deputy executive director told The Denver Post on Wednesday.
“Every day we are pushing out a new batch of PINs through this new delivery method,” Haavind said. “We sent out 13,000 (on Tuesday) and our plan is to continue that cadence until we are caught up, which we believe will be by the end of the week.”
The labor department is still working to update its systems to accommodate greatly expanded benefits set up through last month’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, something Haavind hopes will be completed in the next week or two.
The federally funded expansion includes allowing gig workers and self-employed people to receive payments for the first time. For now, those workers are asked not to apply until the state is sure it can process their claims. All payments will be backdated to ensure every worker gets the full ammount they are entitled to once the system is up and running, officials say.
The state released some industry-specific numbers for the week ending March 21, when nearly 20,000 Coloradans applied for benefits. The hotel and food service industries accounted for 12,411 claims that week, the same week that Gov. Jared Polis ordered a suspension of dine-in service at all bars and restaurants in the state in efforts to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. Health care workers and those in social services fields filed 2,560 claims that week.
The 6,606,000 unemployment claims reported to the U.S. Department of Labor for last week mark a 261,000-worker decline from the week prior. Numbers for the week ending March 28 were revised upward. Almost 6.9 million Americans applied with their state’s offices then.
Some economists predict more than 20 million Americans will lose their jobs this month, a total that could push the national unemployment rate up to 15%.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Updated April 9, 2020, at 9:01 a.m. This story has been updated with a weekly claims figure from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, which is higher than a number shared earlier Thursday but the U.S. Department of Labor.
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