We won’t know regional unemployment claim numbers for a couple weeks, but we know they’ll be big.
Nationwide numbers rolled out Thursday, spiking to 3.3 million over the previous week. County-level data lags about two weeks behind national numbers, said Jessica Valand, Workforce Colorado’s Northwest Colorado regional director. Valand’s territory includes Eagle County.
“We know that weekly unemployment claim filings in the U.S. last week spiked to about 3.3 million, compared to the peak week of the recession in 2008, where claims nationwide were around 700,000. Which is to say, when we do get those county numbers, they will be record-setting at a scale that would have been hard to imagine even a week ago,” Valand said.
The $2 trillion federal package that President Trump signed into law Friday afternoon will create a seismic shift in unemployment benefits.
“It will likely greatly expand unemployment payments and ease requirements on who is eligible to apply,” Valand said.
A month ago, Colorado fielded 2,000 initial unemployment filings a week. Now it’s fielding up to 20,000 a day. Preliminary figures suggest more than 61,000 people applied through Thursday, easily topping last week’s record of 19,745 initial claims.
The previous state record was 7,749 at the height of the Great Recession in 2010, said Ryan Gedney, senior economist for the labor department.
“I would say we’re just seeing the beginning of this, to be honest,” Gedney said.
Thanks in part to the federal coronavirus emergency package, Colorado and other states are preparing to expand the categories of workers displaced by the virus who are eligible for assistance and increase payments.
Colorado will offer unemployment payments to gig workers, independent contractors and others currently not eligible. Benefits will rise from an average of $600 a week to $1,000. Requirements that applicants certify they’re seeking work are suspended, said Cher Haavind, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.
It won’t alleviate today’s suffering; displaced workers may not see expanded benefits until mid-April.
For employers who pay unemployment premiums, claims as a result of COVID-19 will not come from their employer accounts, nor contribute to premium rate increases, Valand said.
The federal package will mean $1,200 checks to many individual Americans, more for families, and expands the unemployment safety net. It also provides hundreds of billions of dollars for companies to maintain payroll.
Before the coronavirus steamrolled the country, Eagle County’s unemployment rate hovered around 2%.
Apply even if you’re seasonal
If your employer is closed because of COVID-19 and you’re out of a job, you should file for unemployment, even if you’re a seasonal worker, Valand said.
You have nothing to lose by filing, Valand said.
To begin the process, go to www.coloradoui.gov, Colorado’s Department of Labor and Employment.
The Associated Press contributed reporting to this story.