Labor department: Colorado unemployment claims soar by 17-fold in 10 days

Editor’s Note: As a public service, BizWest is making all of its coverage of the COVID-19 virus free to read. Please consider subscribing to BizWest to support our efforts to keep you informed on Northern Colorado and the Boulder Valley’s top business news.

DENVER — The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment said unemployment claims have soared in the past 10 days as businesses begin to feel the economic pressure of the COVID-19 outbreak grinding public life to a near halt.

The CDLE said Tuesday afternoon that new claims have increased from about 400 on March 7 to more than 6,800 Tuesday, nearly 17 times larger than the original figure over 10 days. Calls to unemployment offices and online filings created “unprecedented traffic” and slowed application processing times.

Spokeswoman Cher Haavind told BizWest that state officials expect that figure to grow daily over the next few days as businesses start to succumb to the greatly reduced number of customers. The department is considering ways to prevent new claims from overloading its online system, including expanding capacity and instituting filing windows where affected employees can only file if they worked in a specific industry or their last names begin within a section of the alphabet.

“These are unprecedented times for us in terms of volumes in claims, and we expect this to grow daily,” she said. “…And sometimes, there might be delays and hiccups in the systems and processes, and we’re working through those because we know these are challenging times and people need rent and relief for car payments and other financial assistance.”

However, she said some amount of those claims won’t be approved for eligibility reasons, and any reliable data showing just how many people have filed for unemployment won’t be available until early May due to how state and federal labor officials measure unemployment.

CDLE officials said people dealing with temporary layoffs or wage reductions are encouraged to look for part-time work in high-demand fields, such as delivery, health-care or retail in groceries and warehouses. State labor officials plan to release more information on helping match local employers with available workers in the coming days.

Haavind caveated that by saying affected workers should only seek those jobs if they are healthy and can maintain the social distancing protocols to avoid the spread of the novel coronavirus.The new layoff numbers come after days of economic anxiety around the U.S. and the world as governments increasingly restrict public gatherings and commerce to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. The U.S. has 4,226 confirmed cases as of Tuesday afternoon and 75 confirmed deaths.