In a sign the COVID-19 virus is starting to disrupt the local economy and cause layoffs, Walker County had 145 weekly unemployment initial claims filed for the week ending March 21 - up from only 23 just one week earlier.
The Alabama Department of Labor issued its weekly report online Thursday for the week of March 15-21. A total of 10,982 initial claims in the state were filed either online or by telephone during this time period. The week before, on the week ending March 14, a total of 1,819 claims were filed.
The numbers came as federal officials said 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, almost five times the previous record, according to the Associated Press.
In Alabama, the majority of claims filed were "in the Accommodation and Food Services industry (2,880), followed by INA (unclassified) (1,477), and Health Care and Social Assistance (1,070)," the state department said in a release. "Jefferson County had largest number of claims with 2,167."
The week before, Jefferson, which has had the largest outbreak of COVID-19 in the state, had 242 initial claims.
For the week ending March 14, Winston had 21 new claims, while Tuscaloosa had 54, Marion had 11, Fayette had three, and Cullman had 25. Blount had 12.
For the week ending March 21, Winston had 24 claims, Tuscaloosa had 488, Marion had 29, Fayette had 12, Cullman had 127, and Blount had 83.
According to the AP, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday that 3.283 million people applied for unemployment benefits last week, an increase from 282,000 the prior week. Politico said that set a record for a single week in records kept since 1967. The previous record increase was 700,000 in 1982.
"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," the AP said.
The AP reported that business closings and layoffs are at such a pace as society tries to blunt the spread of the coronavirus that some economists say unemployment could approach 13 percent in May, outdistancing the Great Recession's 10 percent high watermark. The United Nations expects 25 million jobs to be lost across the globe, outpacing the 22 million lost in the 2009 financial crisis.
Many economists were reported in media reports at being in awe of the numbers. James Bullard, the head of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, told the Washington Post he expects 30 percent of workers to be unemployed in time, as well as an unprecedented 50 percent decline in economic output. The AP indicated other economists were looking at "a contraction that could reach 30 percent" after being at a 50-year low of 3.5 percent as recent as February.
Various media, such as the New York Times and CNBC and others, report the record high of the Great Depression was 24.9 percent, hit in 1933.
The same report in the Post said the new stimulus package in the Congress "won't be enough to stop a recession. And it's an open question whether the nation can avoid an economic depression, the likes of which haven't been seen since the 1930s."
The record $2.2 trillion aid package that the Senate passed and sent to the House would offer an extra $600 a week on top of state unemployment benefits, supply 13 weeks of additional benefits beyond the six months most states offer, and offer unemployment benefits to gig workers and the others not on a company payroll, the AP said.
The bill includes $10,000 emergency loans and grants for small business, and middle- and low-income individuals will get $1,200 each, and another $500 for each child.
Reports indicate the bill will likely be taken up Friday morning in the House, where it is expected to pass.
Since, March 18, all of Alabama’s 51 Career Centers have been closed to the public in order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. "Alabamians in need of Career Center services will still be able to receive them via telephone calls with their local staff, or through email correspondence," the department said recently. "Additionally, job search services and many other resources are available for self-service at www.joblink.alabama.gov, Alabama’s free online jobs database....
"Please note that Career Centers are NOT 'unemployment offices.' There are no 'unemployment offices' in Alabama," the department said in a release. "The only ways to file an unemployment compensation claim are by calling 1-866-234-5382 or by visiting www.labor.alabama.gov. Online filing is strongly encouraged. A listing of all Career Centers and their contact information is available at www.labor.alabama.gov or at www.joblink.alabama.gov/ada/r/contact."
State Labor Department officials recently said Alabama workers who are not able to work due to COVID-19 were eligible to file for unemployment benefits starting this week. Employers who decide to shut down due to causes related to COVID-19 should treat the shutdown as a temporary layoff. Rules have been modified to allow claims from those quarantined by a medical professional or government agency, laid off or sent home without pay for an extended period due to to the virus, those diagnosed with COVID-19, or those caring for a family member who is diagnosed to positive for the disease.
Workers taking claims do not have to immediately seek a job as long as they can come back to work later after a quarantine or an illness subsides. The waiting week, which is typically the first week of compensable benefits, will also be waived.
People who are being paid to work from home, or those receiving paid sick or vacation leave, are not eligible for unemployment compensation benefits.