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Michigan, United States set records for weekly unemployment claims

unemployment line
 

LANSING — Michigan and the United States set records for unemployment insurance claims last week as the global coronavirus pandemic prompted a spike in business closures and wreaked havoc on the economy. 

In Michigan, 129,298 residents filed initial claims for the week ending Saturday, up more than 2,300 percent from the 5,338 filed the previous week, according to new figures released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Labor.

That total surpassed the state’s previous recorded high of 108,572 new claims in July 1992 and was higher than during any single week of the Great Recession. The jump followed Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s order closing restaurants to in-person dining, casinos and other businesses but pre-dated her broader stay-home order issued Monday.

Nationally, more than 3.2 million Americans filed for unemployment insurance benefits last week, according to seasonally adjusted federal data. That was more than four times the previous recorded high of 695,000 initial claims in October 1982.

Michigan claims increased by 123,960 compared to the prior week, the seventh highest increase in the country. Pennsylvania led the nation with 378,908 claims, up from 363,469 the prior week. California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, and Texas also saw larger spikes than Michigan.

Patrick Anderson, head of the Anderson Economic Group in East Lansing, called the new claims numbers “shocking” and said they point to not just a recession, but the risk of a “corona-depression” for Michigan and the country.

His firm last week estimated that as many as 1.4 million workers could lose at least two days’ wages over the next month-and-a-half. 

“A good number of them already have,” Anderson said Thursday. 

Researchers at the University of Michigan last week predicted 155,000 to 400,000 job losses in the state as a result of the pandemic, which was linked to 2,294 confirmed cases and 43 deaths in Michigan as of Wednesday morning.

Whitmer signed an order last week increasing access to unemployment insurance, and a federal stimulus package advanced by the U.S. Senate late Wednesday includes four months of expanded benefits and an extra $600 weekly in unemployment pay. 

Total unemployment claims — both initial and continued filings — jumped in every Michigan county last week, according to additional data provided by the state Department of Licensing and Economic Opportunity.

Volumes more than doubled in Oakland, Kent, Washtenaw, Ottawa, Ingham, Livingston, Gogebic and Branch counties.

In Wayne County, more than 40,000 residents filed for initial or continued unemployment claims for the week ending March 21. That was from 15,901 claims the prior week, according to the state.

The rush of jobless claims has at times overwhelmed the Michigan website and call center that residents use to apply for unemployment insurance benefits. Last week, the state closed physical officers to prevent the spread of the virus.

The Michigan Unemployment Insurance agency is recommending users file jobless claims online during off-peak hours, between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m., to avoid slow website service.

Additionally, the unemployment agency is warning applicants to expect longer load times and to avoid reloading pages that may take “several minutes” to load. 

“While an unprecedented number of calls and clicks has challenged the system, particularly during peak hours, we want to assure Michiganders that the system is providing emergency financial relief,” UIA director Steve Gray said Wednesday.

Residents can file claims over the phone at 866-500-0017, but Gray warned that because of the huge volume of calls the state is receiving, callers may get a busy signal.

Jimmy Floyd of Grand Rapids said Thursday he’s spent four days trying to apply by phone and online after getting laid off from a “high public contact” job he declined to disclose.

“The website is crashing,” Floyd said, describing multiple error messages he’s received and a busy tone or automated message he’s gotten on the phone. 

Frustrated, Floyd drove to a physical unemployment insurance office on Wednesday but was turned away by a security guard. He said he also tried calling the governor’s constituent services hotline but hasn’t heard back.

“All I want is somebody to reach back,” he said. “We can do better than this.”

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