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Record 3.3 million Americans file for unemployment as the US tries to contain Covid-19
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Federal and state governments are moving to pass relief packages, but some states may struggle to process a deluge of claims * Coronavirus – latest US updates * Coronavirus – latest global updates * See all our coronavirus coverageAs a global health crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic careens toward an economic disaster, Americans facing financial hardship are flooding state unemployment departments.By last week, the number of people filing for unemployment benefits had surged in an increase unseen since 2012. The downturn is already rippling across numerous industries – restaurants are closing their doors, newspapers are folding and the film and TV industry is grinding to a halt.Economists see the job losses as the opening act to the country’s first recession in 11 years – a downturn that could hit hardest in California.State and federal government are moving quickly to pass economic relief packages for those who have lost jobs or work-hours, but experts warn that states like California may struggle to keep pace and process a deluge of new unemployment claims at once.Here’s what you need to know about filing for unemployment and getting access to money as quick as possible. What’s unemployment compensation?Unemployment benefits are designed to help people who are out of work through no fault of their own. They’re meant as a stopgap measure, a way to temporarily maintain a portion of income until someone can find a new job.In response to coronavirus fallout, national lawmakers have made a broader group of people eligible for unemployment relief, including workers who are sick or have been quarantined, those who have been laid off or had hours reduced due to the outbreak and people who can’t work because they have to care for children.default In most cases, self-employed and independent contract workers – such as rideshare drivers and freelance writers – aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits, even though a California law that took effect in January reclassified them as employees.In California someone can collect either unemployment or disability insurance, depending on why they left work. Unemployment benefits typically last up to 26 weeks; disability insurance claims can last up to 52 weeks.But that could change if the federal government grants extensions. Barack Obama extended benefits several times between 2009 and 2013 to deal with rising unemployment rates during the Great Recession. How does it work?The process varies across states, but follows a general pattern that aligns with federal guidelines.After a person’s last day of work, they file a claim with their state’s unemployment department, listing income and the reason they stopped working. States like California are encouraging people to file online as a way to expedite claims.The department contacts your last employer to verify information, and determines a weekly benefit amount based on past earnings and the reason they stopped working.Californians who are sick or quarantined would see 60 to 70% of typical earnings, ranging from $50 to $1,300 a week. Those who have had hours cut would get less. The state’s unemployment department has published additional guidance. How long will it take to get paid?The department says that it generally takes a couple of weeks from the time a person files to when they can access money.That’s the best-case scenario; it would most likely apply when cases are clearcut and doctors or employers are quick to respond and verify information.If doctors or employers delay, or if details are missed on paperwork, it could slow the process considerably, potentially adding weeks or months of wait-time. The sudden spike in claims may also make it increasingly difficult to speak with a live customer service representative over the phone if a claim gets hung up. How many new claims will unemployment departments see?It’s impossible to say for sure. The US treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, warned this week the national unemployment rate could soar from record lows and reach upwards of 20%.State unemployment systems were overwhelmed by a sudden surge of new claims. About 15,000 people in New Jersey applied for unemployment benefits on Monday, a twelvefold increase over normal levels. Connecticut saw an eightfold increase over the weekend.California, one of the state’s hardest hit by the coronavirus, is expecting a huge jump in unemployment seekers. Spokespeople from the California’s unemployment department said the state’s numbers aren’t yet available for this week. But the week after Newsom issued a state-wide stay-at-home order, closing doors to non-essential businesses and putting legions of Californians out of work, the governor said the department that typically handles 2,000 claims a day saw 100,000 on a single day.Newsom said 1 million new claims had been filed between March 13 and March 24. How will coronavirus affect the process?The federal government granted states extra flexibility on how to handle unemployment claims during the pandemic.Those who aren’t working because they’re sick or quarantined must provide evidence from a healthcare professional who has treated them or ordered them to isolate.Someone who isn’t sick or quarantined must still be looking for work and will be required to contact a certain number of employers, depending on the state.But hiring freezes, business shutdowns, and the ability to safely look for work could pose new challenges to those on the job hunt. How is the unemployment department preparing to meet a spike in new claims?States across the country will face a flood of new unemployment claims, but California, the nation’s most populous state, may be caught particularly off guard to meet demands.Loree Levy, California unemployment department’s top spokesperson, said the surge is unique from those seen during the last recession, when state unemployment departments had time to prepare.“Typically, claims ramp up. But this is a big slam all at once. It’s a serious challenge. We’re throwing everything we have at it,” Levy said.Levy said department staffers have been working overtime and on weekends to process claims. The department is also shifting workers from other departments to help process claims, and is looking to retirees who know the system to come back to work.The department is also looking to add new staff members, but Levy cautioned that this may not help in the short term. “Hiring is not an immediate fix,” she said. “It takes several months for someone to be efficient” in processing claims, she said.Further complicating matters is the very reason for the unemployment deluge – a highly contagious disease – which will pose new and difficult staffing challenges to process claims. Levy said the department is looking at ways to prepare more of its staff to work remotely.“I think that’s what made this so complex. We’re concerned about our own employees, but we’re also concerned about providing benefits in a timely manner,” Levy said. What’s next?Because funding for state unemployment departments – money that pays for staffing and infrastructure – are based on recent years’ unemployment rates, and because those rates have fallen to record lows, states now face a unique challenge in responding to a crushing demand after years of paring down departments.“People have been saying for years that the systems are antiquated, and I think we’re going to come to regret that,” said Jesse Rothstein, a labor economist and professor at University of California, Berkeley.Unemployment trust funds, which provide money to pay out benefits, could also go broke – a concern economists have raised for years. If that happens, states would have to borrow funds from the federal government.To be ready to respond to a recession, a state should have enough money in its reserve to pay out benefits for a year.Michele Evermore, a researcher and policy analyst at National Employment Law Project, said that California may be least prepared of any state to stay solvent.That’s why she said it’s crucial for Congress to pass economic relief like the package Donald Trump signed this week, which includes money to boost state unemployment departments’ administrative funding and allow them to build up departments to meet demand.“We’re very much on the right track,” Evermore said, but added the government will need to soon make more support available.On Wednesday, White House and Senate leaders reached a deal on the biggest bailout in history, a $2tn rescue package for the US economy ravaged by the coronavirus.For workers, the aid would look a lot like benefits they would receive under disaster unemployment assistance, which applies to those not already covered by traditional unemployment benefits, such as ride-share drivers and those who are self-employed. It would also provide an extra $600 a week layered on top of traditional unemployment benefits, which now covers the broader group of people.Rothstein said it’s important for Congress to act quickly: “This is going to be a tidal wave and we need the federal government to open up the checkbook.”
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Record 3.3 million Americans file for unemployment as the US tries to contain Covid-19
Labor department figures show the number of claims rose to 3.3 million, beating a previous record of 695,000 in October 1982 * Coronavirus – live global updates * See all our coronavirus coverageA record 3.3 million people filed claims for unemployment in the US last week as the Covid-19 pandemic shut down large parts of America’s economy.According to the labor department, the number of new jobless claims filed by individuals seeking unemployment benefits rose by more than three million to 3.28m from 281,000 the previous week. The figure is the highest ever reported, beating the previous record of 695,000 claims filed the week ending 2 October 1982.unemployment claims graphThe release offers the first official glimpse of the severe economic downturn that the US faces as companies shutter businesses and states across the country move to prevent people from gathering in crowds in an attempt to contain the virus.“This morning’s jobless claims confirm that the United States is in the thralls of a catastrophic unemployment crisis, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Great Depression,” said Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation thinktank. “This represents the single worst one-day piece of labor market news in America’s history.”Across the US, laid off workers have overwhelmed state labor departments with claims for unemployment benefits. In New York City, which now accounts for roughly 5% of global Covid-19 cases, there has been a 1,000% increase in claims.Ahead of the labor department release, the Trump administration pushed to block states from releasing daily figures on the soaring unemployment crisis.Ohio and South Carolina stopped releasing daily figures after receiving a memo from the department of labor that read: “The data from these reports is monitored closely by policy makers and financial markets to determine appropriate actions in light of fast-changing economic conditions. As such, the data must remain embargoed until the national claims report is released the following Thursday at 8.30am.”According to Johns Hopkins University there are now 55,233 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the US and 802 reported deaths, up from 302 last weekend. Despite the rising casualties, president Donald Trump said this week that he would like the country “opened up and just raring to go by Easter”.Trump is concerned the quarantine measures could prove more harmful than the virus, an opinion that is disputed by economists and health experts. On Wednesday he tweeted: “The real people want to get back to work ASAP. We will be stronger than ever before!”> The LameStream Media is the dominant force in trying to get me to keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to my election success. The real people want to get back to work ASAP. We will be stronger than ever before!> > — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 25, 2020Last week’s sharp rise in unemployment marks the end of an historic period of US jobs growth. US employers have added jobs every month for 101 consecutive months and in March the unemployment rate was 3.5%, a 50-year low.Economists said it was still too early to gauge the depth and length of the pandemic’s impact on the jobs market. Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis president James Bullard has said he expects unemployment to hit 30% in the second quarter, while Morgan Stanley has estimated that unemployment would average 12.8% over that time period.“There is going to be a lot of hardship for a lot of people,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist of The PNC Financial Services Group. But he expects to see a “solid rebound” by the summer if the virus is contained by then.
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