Coronavirus: Jobless claims skyrocket; Ohio and counties among hardest hit

A member of the National Guard loads fresh food into the back of a vehicle at The Foodbank Thursday. MARSHALL GORBYSTAFF
A member of the National Guard loads fresh food into the back of a vehicle at The Foodbank Thursday. MARSHALL GORBYSTAFF

A stunning 6.6 million Americans, including 272,117 people in Ohio, filed for unemployment last week as coronavirus-related layoffs take a massive, never-seen-before toll on the U.S., state and local economies, according to data released Thursday.

The number of initial jobless claims nationwide was double the prior week’s tally, which already was unprecedented and record-setting.

In the last two weeks, more than 468,414 people have filed for unemployment in Ohio, which is nearly 104,000 more claims than laid off workers filed in all of 2019, according to the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services.

Ohio recently had the second largest increase in claims in the country, and several local counties appear to be among the hardest hit in the state.

Preble, Greene and Miami counties have experienced some of the largest increases in jobless claims in Ohio, with all three seeing claims climb 3,990% or higher, according to an analysis of the most recent data by Policy Matters Ohio.

“Our people are hurting and so are our employers,” said Greene County Administrator Brandon Huddleson. “We are looking forward to putting this evil pandemic behind us so we can get back to business and back to normal.”

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Huge numbers of people have been laid off because of the COVID-19 crisis, and first-time claims for unemployment benefits across the country skyrocketed to more than 6.6 million in the week ending March 28, the U.S. Department of Labor announced on Thursday.

In the week ending March 21, nearly 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment compensation, which shattered the previous one-week high of 695,000 set in 1982.

Ohio, which had the second largest increase nationwide in initial claims for the week ending March 21, saw claims surge once again last week to a new record level, according to the state and Labor Department.

This crisis has been extremely difficult and has put many Ohioans out of work, but these sacrifices are helping save lives, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said on Thursday.

“We’re still in this — it’s not over with yet,” he said about COVID-19 cases. “We don’t when we’re going to hit the peak.”

Preble County’s increase in initial jobless claims led the state, rising a whopping 5,756% in the week ending March 21, compared to the previous week, according to state data analyzed by Policy Matters Ohio.

Greene County had the fourth largest increase in claims during that period: They rose from 58 to 2,533, which was a spike of 4,267%.

Miami County, whose increase ranked sixth statewide, saw claims jump 3,990% to 1,677. The previous week, the county had only 41 claims.

“Ohioans in all reaches of the state are already feeling the impact of the coronavirus recession,” said Policy Matters Ohio researcher Michael Shields. “This crisis has hit Ohio harder and faster because so many Ohioans have been living on the brink for so long.”

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Montgomery County’s claims climbed to 9,126, up from 256 the prior week (+3,565%); Warren County saw a 3,659% increase; and Butler County saw a 3,755% jump.

Clark County saw claims increase 2,746%, while Champaign County’s claims rose 1,657%.

The spike in unemployment claims is a fully predictable result of the state's stay-at-home order, said Denise Robertson, president of the Preble County Board of Commissioners.

Robertson said the economy was robust before this crisis, and she is hopeful that it will rebound quickly when it’s over.

“This increase in unemployment is a natural result of shutting down all the businesses,” she said.

She said she hopes the coronavirus economic relief package that Congress passed while help tide people over until businesses reopen and people get back to work.

Congress is sending Americans direct stimulus payments and also beefed up the unemployment compensation program with enhanced benefits.

But state officials and elected leaders say life might not return to normal anytime soon. They predict COVID-19 cases could peak sometime between mid-April and mid-May, and many businesses are unlikely to reopen anytime soon.

On Thursday, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said the increase in unemployment claims in the state was “startling” and put a massive burden on the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services, which accepts and processes applications for benefits.

Many Ohioans have complained about long wait times and problems with the online system used to apply for unemployment, which at times has been overwhelmed with massive traffic volumes.

But Husted said the department has added 300 new employees at the call center to help unemployed Ohioans apply for benefits, and they plan to add 1,000 by the end of next week.

Huge numbers of people are out of work, but many employers in critical parts of the economy are in big need of workers to keep up with intense demand, Husted said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Miami County hard in many areas, but OhioMeansJobs Miami County has begun to do outreach with many of its employers to try to assist them in these tough times, said Teresa Brubaker, director of Miami County Job and Family Services.

“We want to help businesses as much as possible now and be prepared and ready to meet their needs when we get through this crisis,” she said.

She added, “We are living in extraordinary times and are working hard to keep on top of the rapidly changing way we work and live our daily lives.”

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