Nearly 190,000 Ohioans applied for unemployment benefits last week — 26 times more than the preceding week — and nearly 3.3 million Americans did the same as businesses shutter in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The 187,780 claims filed March 15 to 21 in Ohio represent a more than 2,500 percent increase in claims from the number filed the preceding week (7,042).
Also, that amount ranks high in comparison to claims filed at the height of the 1980s recession. In December 1981, 205,159 claims were filed in Ohio. For further perspective, 2019 had 369,594 claims.
Individual county-by-county numbers were not available Thursday, according to a spokesman with Ohio JFS who hopes the numbers will be ready today.
Thursday’s unemployment numbers from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and U.S. Department of Labor underscore the hard-hitting impact COVID-19 has on suffering state and national economies.
Layoffs are sure to accelerate as the U.S. economy sinks into a recession. Revenue has collapsed at restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, gyms and airlines. Auto sales are plummeting, and car makers have closed factories. Most such employers face loan payments and other fixed costs, so they’re cutting jobs to save money.
As job losses mount, some economists say the nation’s unemployment rate could approach 13 percent by May. By comparison, the highest jobless rate during the Great Recession, which ended in 2009, was 10 percent.
“What seemed impossible just two weeks ago is now reality,” said Nancy Vanden Houten, an economist at Oxford Economics, a consulting firm. “The U.S. economy will experience the largest economic contraction on record with the most severe surge in unemployment ever.”
In Ohio, work is being done to bolster the state’s unemployment benefit system that was overwhelmed by the surge in COVID-19-related claims.
Servers are being added to expand capacity, about 15 times more than normal, said Lt. Gov. Jon Husted on Thursday during the state’s daily virus briefing.
“We know not everybody is getting served at the pace the demand requires, but you should know they are working through that and the team is trying to build capacity,” Husted said, reassuring filers benefits would be retroactive.
Husted also advised filers to consider accessing the system during nonpeak hours to alleviate wait times.
Ohio JFS continues to urge people to file claims online. Those without internet access or who have case-specific questions can call 1-877-644-6562 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays.
Workers who lose their jobs as a result of the coronavirus can enter the mass-layoff number 2000180 on their applications. Affected individuals who already have submitted claims without this number do not need to add it.
Across the U.S. the economic deterioration has been swift. As recently as February, the unemployment rate was at a 50-year low of 3.5 percent. And the economy was growing steadily if modestly. Yet by the April-June quarter of the year, some economists think the economy will shrink at its steepest annual pace ever — a contraction that could reach 30 percent.
In its report Thursday, the Labor Department said 3.287 million people applied for unemployment benefits last week, up from 282,000 during the previous week. Many people who have lost jobs in recent weeks, though, have been unable to file for unemployment aid because state websites and phone systems have been overwhelmed by a crush of applicants and have frozen up.
That logjam suggests Thursday’s report actually understates the magnitude of job cuts last week. So does the fact that workers who are not on company payrolls — gig workers, free-lancers, the self-employed — currently aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits even though in many cases they no longer are able to earn money.
Questions are being asked in Ohio regarding those types of workers. Husted said federal legislation addresses those folks for benefits, and the Ohio JFS team already is preparing and waiting on guidance from the U.S. Labor Department.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.