‘21,000 A DAY’: NC Unemployment Claims Near 500,000

RALEIGH – On average, 21,000 North Carolinians have filed for unemployment benefits.

Every day.

For the last three weeks.

That’s according to Department of Employment Security officials that figure the torrent of claims pouring in due to coronavirus closures is four to five times the severity of the Great Recession.

We see updated numbers everyday on the health toll that coronavirus is taking on our state, country, and nations around the world. Just beneath those headlines, though, are those reporting the massive economic hit taken by businesses and workers as a result of the shutdown policies. North Carolina, so far spared the worst on a public health front, has nevertheless been particularly hard hit economically.

The people of the our great state have been subjected to a statewide ‘stay-at-home’ order for over a week, but the largest population centers have been under local lockdown orders for even longer. Before that, bars and restaurants were ordered closed to diners by an executive order from Governor Roy Cooper. Now, all but those classified or approved as ‘essential businesses’ are targeted, and even the essential operations are facing tighter mandates for social distancing.

The government edicts to coerce social distancing is an effort to “flatten the curve,” as you’ve likely heard a million times, if you’ve heard it once. Slowing the spread, reducing the spike in hospitalizations, and preventing a potential overwhelming of hospital resource capacity. The resulting super-spike in unemployment, however, has overwhelmed claims systems.

From the News & Observer:

“[…] Lockhart Taylor leads North Carolina’s unemployment office. He told a legislative committee Tuesday his office has been getting an average of 21,000 new claims per day over the past three weeks. That’s the period in which Gov. Roy Cooper has issued several orders restricting business and travel in an attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus.

So far, Taylor said, 110,000 people’s claims have been approved and $28.6 million has been paid out.

And since the federal benefits of $600 a week are more than double the state’s average weekly payments, there should be tens of millions more dollars pouring into North Carolina once the federal benefits start getting processed. […]

On one recent day, Taylor said, the office fielded more than a quarter of a million phone calls.

He acknowledged the complaints that have been widely reported, about people calling in and being hung up on due to the high number of calls already queued up in front of them. […]

Taylor had previously told that committee that during the height of the Great Recession, the unemployment office was handling around 100,000 unemployment claims a month.

Now, however, the state is getting more than that every week.

Tuesday marks exactly three weeks since Gov. Roy Cooper ordered bars and restaurants to close except for takeout and delivery, and the state is on track to pass 500,000 job losses within a few days.

As of Monday, the state has seen 445,000 unemployment claims, most of which were listed as being specifically due to COVID-19. […]”

More specifically, those claims were due to closures ordered by governments in reaction to the potential worst-case scenarios of coronavirus impact presented to elected leaders by public health officials and disease modelers.

Tuesday Governor Cooper hinted that the statewide ‘Stay at Home’ order could be extended for a whole additional month, through May, because a panel of experts with a new model project an overwhelming of hospitals if the order is lifted after April 29.

So how much worse will the economic toll get in the meantime? While no solution is perfect, what can be done to allow our community economies to resume functioning, lest the costs of the shutdown policies dwarf the direct impact from COVID-19?

If you, or someone close to you, has suffered the loss of a livelihood due to coronavirus closures, there is an alphabet soup of reinforced programs from which to seek relief. There are distinctions between the state and federal benefits. The latter now includes benefits for self-employed freelancers and independent contractors to file for benefits, but, like most new government programs, is not a smooth and easy process. There is a good overview of the different hoops to jump through here.

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