66,0000 lose jobs in Kansas, Mis­souri as coro­n­avirus spreads

The Kansas City Star - - Business - BY KEVIN HARDY [email protected]­star.com Kevin Hardy: 816-234-4337, @kev­in­mhardy

More than 66,000 peo­ple in Mis­souri and Kansas filed unem­ploy­ment claims last week as the coro­n­avirus shut down many parts of the U.S. econ­omy.

Data re­leased Thurs­day show that 42,207 Mis­souri­ans filed ini­tial unem­ploy­ment claims for the week end­ing March 21. That’s up from 3,976 the pre­vi­ous week — an in­crease of more than 961%.

In Kansas, 23,925 work­ers filed new unem­ploy­ment claims last week. That’s a spike of more than 1,200% over the 1,820 Kansans who filed claims the week prior.

Across the country, the sea­son­ally ad­justed num­ber of ini­tial unem­ploy­ment claims filed last week in­creased to nearly 3.3 mil­lion, an in­crease of more than 3 mil­lion over the pre­vi­ous week, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Depart­ment

of La­bor. That spike of more than 1,000% rep­re­sents the largest level of ini­tial claims filed since the depart­ment started track­ing sea­son­ally ad­justed unem­ploy­ment rates. The pre­vi­ous high was 695,000 in Oc­to­ber 1982.

The la­bor depart­ment said states largely cited ser­vice in­dus­tries for the ma­jor in­creases, though it noted health care, so­cial as­sis­tance, arts, en­ter­tain­ment, recre­ation, trans­porta­tion and man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tors were also adding to higher unem­ploy­ment.

Anna Hui, di­rec­tor of the Mis­souri Depart­ment of La­bor and In­dus­trial Re­la­tions, said the claims filed last week alone equaled 30% of all claims filed in the state dur­ing 2019.

“That’s an in­cred­i­ble num­ber,” Hui said at a press con­fer­ence in Jef­fer­son City.

She said the state has waived its one-week wait­ing pe­riod for unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fits and re­laxed work search re­quire­ments for those af­fected by the virus out­break.

“This will de­crease some of the pro­cess­ing time to get ben­e­fits to el­i­gi­ble work­ers faster,” Hui said Wed­nes­day.

Of­fi­cials with the Mis­souri agency did not re­spond to a re­quest for comment Thurs­day. It wasn’t im­me­di­ately clear what in­dus­tries were fu­el­ing the rise of unem­ploy­ment claims in the ShowMe State.

Still, the grow­ing ranks of the un­em­ployed speak to how rapidly the na­tional econ­omy has changed: just a few weeks ago, em­ploy­ers all across the country were chal­lenged find­ing work­ers as most parts of the na­tion en­joyed record low lev­els of unem­ploy­ment.

Last week, Kansas of­fi­cials an­nounced at least 11,355 peo­ple filed unem­ploy­ment claims — an in­crease of more than 600% over of the 1,820 peo­ple who filed new claims the pre­vi­ous week. But Thurs­day’s data re­lease shows that ini­tial num­ber has more than dou­bled to 23,925.

Kansas La­bor Sec­re­tary Delía Gar­cía said claims con­tinue in­creas­ing this week, but it’s hard to tell how much higher they may go.

“Every­thing is mov­ing so fast so I can’t even really pre­dict,” she said.

Last week, more than 7,100 Kansas work­ers in the food and ac­com­mo­da­tions sec­tor filed for unem­ploy­ment, ac­count­ing for about 33% of new claims. Those work­ers, along with those em­ployed in man­u­fac­tur­ing and health care and so­cial as­sis­tance sec­tors, ac­counted for more than 60% of new claims.

More than half of all those who filed for unem­ploy­ment were be­tween the ages of 16 and 34. About 57% were fe­male.

Those num­bers have flooded phone lines at the state la­bor depart­ment.

Gar­cía said the depart­ment re­ceived 181,000 at­tempted phone calls on Wed­nes­day alone. She said 21 in­di­vid­u­als made 8,444 of those at­tempted calls, di­al­ing the state over and over again seek­ing to con­nect with an op­er­a­tor.

“One in­di­vid­ual called 714 times yes­ter­day,” she said. “We get it. We know peo­ple are stressed.”

So far, the Kansas unem­ploy­ment trust fund re­mains sol­vent with nearly $1 bil­lion saved.

“Now ob­vi­ously we’re go­ing to be dip­ping into that,” Gar­cía said.

The weekly unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fit in Kansas ranges from a min­i­mum of $122 to a max­i­mum of $488 per week — the av­er­age ben­e­fit is $398.50 per week. In a pro­posed mas­sive re­lief pack­age, the U.S. Congress is seek­ing to boost stan­dard unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fits by $600 per week.

Rather than ty­ing up the phone lines, af­fected work­ers can find in­for­ma­tion and be­gin unem­ploy­ment claims on­line at GetKansasB­en­e­fits.gov.

Even as the state is flooded with many stressed in­di­vid­u­als who find them­selves out of work for the first time, of­fi­cials said many have been gra­cious to the over­whelmed staff. Some have writ­ten emails or called in thank­ing the staff for con­nect­ing them with ben­e­fits, said Lau­rel Klein Sear­les, the depart­ment’s unem­ploy­ment in­sur­ance di­rec­tor.

“The peo­ple that are call­ing in are show­ing pa­tience and un­der­stand­ing,” she said. “Ob­vi­ously, we’re all stressed. This is new ter­ri­tory for all of us. And we’re try­ing to fig­ure out how to nav­i­gate it all to­gether.”


TAMMY LJUNG­BLAD tljung­[email protected]­star.com

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the stay-at-home or­der was in ef­fect on Tues­day, leav­ing the 18th and Vine Jazz Dis­trict nearly a ghost town.

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