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DENVER — More than 45,000 Colorado residents have filed for unemployment since Monday, the Colorado Department of Labor and Statistics said, as ongoing efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus across the U.S. generated the most rapid loss of employment since the Great Depression.
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In a statement Thursday afternoon, the state labor department said its move to an alternating schedule of when residents can file claims reduced enough stress on the department to accept the 45,000 applications for processing.
Colorado labor officials said approximately 25,000 residents filed for unemployment between March 9 and March 13, an increase in magnitude of 17 times compared to the week before. The higher figure of new filings this week is partially due to more people being able to successfully file applications online and over the phone. Several state residents reported jammed phone lines and failed attempts to file online as a wave of new claims overwhelmed the department last week.
As of Monday, filers whose last names start between A and M can file only on Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays or after 12 p.m. Saturday, while filers with surnames starting with letters between N and Z can file on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays or before 12 p.m. Saturday.
The unprecedented spike comes as bars, restaurants, breweries, gyms and in-person service businesses all shut down at the same time on orders of local and state health officials to slow COVID-19 virus infections.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said just under 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment between March 14 and March 21, shattering the previous record of seasonally-adjusted unemployment claims in a single week when 695,000 Americans claimed benefits in October 1982.
However, those numbers likely represent a low estimate of just how many Americans are without work right now because it does not include people who can’t claim unemployment, such as small-business owners or independent contractors.
There is also a difference in the raw figure of people filing for unemployment at the state level and figures reported to the federal government as state labor departments have to check applicants for eligibility and wage verification before adding them to the federal numbers, CDLE spokeswoman Cher Haavind said.
For example, California Gov. Gavin Newson said Wednesday his state alone has seen more than 1 million claims in the past two weeks, but federal data shows only 186,000 claims from the 14th to the 21st. That indicates a lag time between officials there receiving applications and approving them for benefits.
Haavind also said emergency rules enacted in previous weeks will allow people to file for unemployment to cover unpaid sick leave or a reduction in hours, further distorting the true figure of unemployment in the state.
CDLE senior economist Ryan Gedney said the most complete photo of Colorado’s employment situation, including people who lost their jobs but aren’t eligible to claim benefits, won’t be available until mid-April.
However, the raw figure of unemployment claims can still paint a partial picture of Colorado’s workforce.
“They maybe lag differently, but they’ll start telling the same story, basically: higher unemployment and higher claims load,” he said.
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