66,0000 lose jobs in Kansas, Missouri as coronavirus spreads
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.”
LAST WEEK, MORE THAN 7,100 KANSAS WORKERS IN THE FOOD AND ACCOMMODATIONS SECTOR FILED FOR UNEMPLOYMENT, ACCOUNTING FOR ABOUT 33% OF NEW CLAIMS.
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.