COVID-19 causes unemployment to surge in Iowa

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Unemployment documents from the Iowa Workforce Development office. — Emma McClatchey/Little Village

Almost 42,000 Iowans filed first-time claims for unemployment during the week starting March 15, Iowa Workforce Development (IWD) reported on Thursday. During the governor’s press conference last Friday, IWD Director Beth Townsend called the number of new unemployment filings her department was receiving “pretty staggering.”

“Essentially, what we’re receiving on a daily basis is what we would receive in a busy month,” Townsend said.

Between Sunday, March 15, and Saturday, March 21, a total of 41,890 Iowans filed initial claims for unemployment benefits. IWD described the week the new report covers as the “first time period that reflects the increased number of claims filed related to COVID-19, including the broader group of individuals eligible for claims due to the virus.”

On Tuesday, March 17, Gov. Reynolds issued an emergency order requiring restaurants to stop dine-in service; mandated the closure of fitness centers, theaters and casinos; and prohibited all gatherings of more than 10 people in public spaces, in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19.

IDW’s list of the five sectors of the economy filing the largest number of claims reflects the impact of that order, as well as the wider impact of COVID-19 in Iowa.

• Accommodation and Food Services (13,364)

• Health Care and Social Assistance (4,936)

• Education Services (2,698)

• Other Services (1,999)

• Retail Trade (1,710)

On Monday, the governor issued another emergency order, which required the closure of salons and barbershops, medical spas, massage therapy, tattoo establishments, tanning salons and swimming pools. IDW’s next weekly report, which will be issued on April 2, will reflect the initial impact of that order.

Iowa, of course, was not alone in experiencing a surge in unemployment claims due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. Department of Labor issued its weekly report on unemployment claims on Thursday morning, showing record growth in unemployment. Almost 3.3 million Americans filed unemployment claims in the week starting March 15.

“Just three weeks ago, barely 200,000 people applied for jobless benefits, a historically low number,” the New York Times reported. “In the half-century that the government has tracked applications, the most applications filed in a single week had been fewer than 700,000.”

The Times also noted, “As staggering as the figures are, they almost certainly understate the problem. Some part-time and low-wage workers don’t qualify for unemployment benefits. Nor do gig workers, independent contractors and the self-employed, although the emergency aid package being considered by Congress would broaden eligibility.”

The Senate passed the $2 trillion emergency aid package by a vote of 96-0 on Wednesday night. The House of Representatives is expected to quickly approve it on Friday. President Trump has said he will sign it as soon as it reaches his desk.

Anyone needing information about filing for unemployment can find information on IWD’s site. The agency has also set up a new section on its site that is dedicated to information related to COVID-19.

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