Michigan unemployment surges; record 1 in 10 workers have filed claims

unemployment line

Both Michigan and the United States posted record jobless claims for the week ended March 28. (Shutterstock image)

LANSING — More than 300,000 Michigan residents filed unemployment insurance claims last week, an unprecedented surge amid the coronavirus pandemic that has forced business closures, prompted mass layoffs and overwhelmed the state filing system.

Both Michigan and the United States posted record jobless claims for the week ended Saturday, March 28, surpassing what had been all-time highs set the prior week, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Labor. 

Michigan reported 311,086 initial claims for the week of March 22-28, the first full period since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order prohibited non-essential travel by residents and closed additional businesses not deemed “critical.”

State claims were up more than 6,000 percent compared to the final week of March last year, when the state processed 4,737 applications. 

Roughly 1 in 10 Michigan workers — a total of 439,092 — have filed for jobless benefits over the past two weeks. 

Nationally, seasonally adjusted claims totaled 6,648,000, according to the federal data. That was up from 3,283,000 the prior week, which had shattered the previously recorded high of 695,000 set in October 1982.

Nearly 10 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits since March 15.


And like the coronavirus pandemic, which had spread to 9,334 Michigan residents by Wednesday and killed 337, experts say the economy may still get worse before it begins to improve. 

“We know we're not to the end of the job losses,” said Charles Ballard, an economics professor at Michigan State University. “It looks like the month of April is going to be pretty ugly, and maybe May, and maybe longer.”

The new claims data come just days after analysts at the Goldman Sachs financial firm released grim projections of continued job losses. The firm is predicting the national unemployment rate could jump to 15 percent by midyear, up from 3.5 percent in February.

Michigan’s unemployment rate never got that high during the Great Recession, which hit the state earlier, longer and harder than most. The jobless rate here topped out at 14.6 percent in June 2009, which was the highest rate since a national recession in 1982.

The Anderson Economic Group in East Lansing has projected that as many as 1.4 million Michigan workers could lose at least two days’ wages over the next month-and-a-half.

Researchers at the University of Michigan have predicted 155,000 to 400,000 job losses in the state as a result of the pandemic. The state is already approaching the high end of those projections, according to the benefit claims data released Thursday. 

While business restrictions may be eased if the public health crisis subsides, there is long-term danger that “ripple effects” will continue to rock what had already been a slowing economy, Ballard said. 

“It’s not just that the restaurant closes,” he said. “ It’s that there’s reduced demand for all the things that restaurant would have bought, and then that ripples through the entire system.”

Website crashes under weight

The crush of unemployment claims has at times overwhelmed Michigan’s online filing system and call center, prompting the state Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity to recommend residents apply during off-peak hours and only on certain days.

The state is also in the process of hiring 100 additional staffers for the unemployment claim call center, where as many as 250 employees now work at a time, according to department spokesman Jason Moon.

“Nearly all UIA staff is focused right on processing claims,” he said. 

Despite efforts to add server capacity, the Michigan Unemployment Insurance website crashed Tuesday and was offline for roughly 1 hour and 40 minutes. 

An “unprecedented volume of transactions” processed on Monday had caused an internal error on some servers that made the system unstable and subsequently unavailable for a limited time Tuesday, Moon said. The technical team resolved the error and continues to monitor the site.

System delays come at a difficult time for Michigan residents who lost their jobs but should have access to expanded benefits under a state order and federal rescue package, which will provide an extra $600 per week in compensation and extend payments from 26 to 39 weeks.

It took Bob Kustasz of Clinton Township four days to successfully apply after he was temporarily laid off from his job as an internet manager at a Ford dealership that closed last week. 

He and his wife battled busy signals and dropped calls as they took turns redialing the state hotline by cellphone and landline an estimated 400 times, and he was discouraged by slow load times and missing functionality. 

“I don’t know what they system was designed to handle, but I don’t know if anybody would ever plan for that kind of crunch,” Kustasz said. 


    While he understands the delays, Kustasz said the process left him anxious, frustrated and antsy. His concern was compounded by an official notice, prepared by the state and filled out by his employer, directing him to file his claim “during the first week of unemployment.”

    Michigan law typically gives applicants 14 days to file, and an executive order signed by Whitmer extended that window to 28 days for workers who lose jobs due to the pandemic. Claims will be backdated to reflect the date they were laid off. 

    That information should be “front and center” on the state website, said Kustasz, who didn’t know that when he was trying to apply and feared he was “gonna lose a week of unemployment — because that’s what it says on the form” his employer filled out. 

    Michigan is not the only state whose online system has strained under the weight of new claims. 

    In New York, home to the most coronavirus cases in the nation, the state’s unemployment website sputtered to a halt after a rush of claims that a spokeswoman compared to “post 9/11” volumes.

    In Colorado, applicants were confronted by “days of error messages” last week before some finally found success online. Hawaii scrapped its struggling unemployment portal in favor of a new digital form.

    Despite frustrations by users last week, the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency still managed to process an average of 44,440 claims per day. That’s nearly nine times the volume as a typical week. 

    “We appreciate the patience that Michigan workers have shown the unemployment system in the last few weeks,” Moon said, “but we can assure everyone who is eligible for benefits and applies will receive them.”

    When and how to file unemployment claims

    Additional data provided Thursday shows the volume of initial and continued claims processed by the state has at least doubled in 70 of 83 counties over the past two weeks compared to the first two weeks of March.  

    Processed claims jumped more than 400 percent in Ottawa and Washtenaw counties over that span; and more than 300 percent in Macomb, Oakland, Kent, Ingham, Livingston, Muskegon,  Monroe, Eaton, Lenawee, Shiawasee, Ionia, Clinton. St. Joseph, Hillsdale and Branch counties.

    In Wayne, the state’s most populous county, 71,057 residents successfully filed new or continued unemployment insurance claims last week, up from 15,474 the first week of March.

    “The unprecedented increase in unemployment claims demonstrate the economic hardship that COVID-19 has caused for so many across our country and here in Michigan,” Jeff Donofrio, director of the state labor department, said in a statement.

    “The Unemployment Insurance Agency continues to work around the clock to provide emergency financial assistance to working families.” 

    To mitigate user issues, the state is now suggesting unemployed workers file for benefits online between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. to avoid heavy traffic, and it’s implementing an alternating schedule for all applicants. 

    Residents with last names that start with letters A-L are asked to file online claims anytime Monday, Wednesday or Friday and call center claims between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays.

    Applicants with last names that start with M-Z are asked to file online Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday or by phone between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday.

    If those times don’t work for you, the state says anyone can try to file online Saturday, and the call center will be open to all on Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

    The federal rescue package signed last week by Republican President Donald Trump will soon expand unemployment benefits to self-employed workers, gig workers, 1099-independent contractors and low-wage workers who had not previously qualified. 

    But those workers should “NOT APPLY AT THIS TIME,” according to the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, which is working to finalize rules with the federal government and says applications should open in “the next few days.”

    “Hang tight,” Donofrio said Tuesday on Twitter, telling users the state needs the U.S. Department of Labor to “give us the rules.” If you apply now and are denied, the state will contact you with next steps once the rules are in place, he said. 

    The “key here is to give the system time to work for those who are eligible now” so that when the federal government “gives us the go ahead, we’ll have more resources free to quickly process your claim.” 

    Likewise, the state says that residents who already applied do not need to do any additional work to qualify for additional benefits under the federal rescue package. 

    “If you’re already in the system, you’re going to get an extra $600 a week,” Moon said.


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    bill jackson
    Thu, 04/02/2020 - 5:55pm

    Hi, I made application successfully 3/16, approved 3/17. Nothing has been direct deposited yet or posted as paid out on the UIA portal of mine. Can anyone say what all these articles leave out ... how long until funds flow from MI UIA to the unemployed persons? thank you.

    Thu, 04/09/2020 - 10:05am

    When you were done applying it should have given you a date you need to certify on. YOu have to call in or go online every 2 weeks to certify or you do not get paid.

    Thu, 04/02/2020 - 10:28pm

    The Gov. knew the unemployment was going to be high yet failed to shore up the website. She is a failure in every way.

    Sat, 04/04/2020 - 5:52pm

    You must be mistaken, I believe you are referring to our "president". I'm comforted knowing Jerrod is in charge.

    Jennifer McMican
    Fri, 04/03/2020 - 2:50pm

    Your article is great, but it fails to mention when people who have already filed can expect to actually get any money. I filed in mid March and have yet to receive any money. Apparently there was a holdup in the process but due to poor communication I could not figure out what I needed to do and only figured that out because I accidentally stumbled on what amounted to be hidden information. So now I might get access to a measly $159 (before tax) for the 1st 2 weeks of being laid off from my FULL TIME JOB. And by the way, I never had dropped calls from UIA, the disconnection was always deliberate with a msg saying "goodbye".

    Cathy Hagan
    Sat, 04/04/2020 - 12:16pm

    I received my 1st benefits deposit this week but there was no additional $600 a week. When should we expect this? Does anyone know?

    Jennifer McMican
    Mon, 04/06/2020 - 6:23pm

    Cathy, you received your first unemployment payment, do you mind saying when you first filed? Just to give us a time frame.

    Sun, 04/05/2020 - 12:11pm

    Your information about an additional $600 per week is wrong. I listened to a telephone town hall with Representative Andy Levin the other day and they clarified that the extra $600 is per MONTH not week.

    Mon, 04/06/2020 - 1:16pm

    Sorry Gail but you've been misinformed,it is most certainly per week,says so in the bill so whatever townhall meeting you attend has incorrect information..

    Tue, 04/07/2020 - 10:55am

    Just wondering how far back are they going to back date the 600 dollars

    Thu, 04/09/2020 - 10:06am

    It is effective the week ending 4/4/2020

    Mon, 04/20/2020 - 11:29am

    I filed the last week the end of March for a back dated two weeks. I was not sure what the employer was going to do and I was sick. Long story short. The employer validated the claim prior, I have certified for 4 weeks and still not received payment. there is a listing that says

    Non monetary issue. I have heard this is and issue but since you can't get through to talk to anyone online or via phone call it is moot point.

    I suggest calling your congressmen and then senator.

    That is what I am doing right now.

    So frustrating.

    Mon, 04/06/2020 - 9:26am

    The phone line is an absolute joke. You call it will be busy 15 times. Then you call and it rings this phone line is absolutely designed to hang up on everyone that calls. You cannot convince me that the phone calls are overloaded there is no one even answering the phone at the other line they are lying to us. It goes to hit one if you want to file a claim. Hit one to speak to a representative and then it says if you stay on the line you must complete your claim or it won’t go through and then it tells you to go to the Unemployment site and then it hangs up on you. They are completely lying about the phone lines being overwhelmed they are not bothering to answer them.What a complete fraud the entire Michigan State unemployment system is

    Jennifer McMican
    Mon, 04/06/2020 - 5:28pm

    Yes! Every time I call it says that due to high call volume they recommend going online where they never respond to your msgs and then it disconnects.

    Tue, 04/07/2020 - 1:41pm

    My experience is similar However when I put in my ss# and dob during the login process this message is generated every time: "This ss# is already associated to a different account.Please contact customer service @ 1-800-866-500-007." Tried this number and of course the recording tells me to apply on line (which I have been trying to do but cannot )Called the customer troubling shooting number discovered the so called "different account" goes back to August 2014 where I was denied Now I cannot file until this issue is corrected Contacted a trouble shooting site and discovered dozens of applicants in similar situations Where is the help I'm a substitute teacher and need the benefits Where is the extra help? How is my issue going to be handled? Can we get updates as to how uia is handling this situation

    Jennifer McMican
    Tue, 04/07/2020 - 6:35pm

    I keep getting a red flag on my claim that says to file an additional claim and when I do that it gives me the exact same msg and not one response to my msgs for assistance. My sister is having the same problem.

    Candie Reece
    Wed, 04/08/2020 - 11:58pm

    Has anyone received a payment yet from unemployment? It says i have a payment for the 9th which is tomorrow. But i still have received my UIA Card but i also just put in my own bank account info but even before that i still hadnt received my card in the mail.