About 400,000 Kentuckians filed for unemployment over past month due to COVID-19 woes

16 April 2020 - Ben Tobin (Louisville Courier Journal)

Roughly 116,000 Kentuckians filed for unemployment last week as part of the roughly 5.25-million Americans to submit new jobless claims who are feeling the economic woes spurred by the coronavirus pandemic.

With the 115,763 Kentuckians in Thursday's U.S. Department of Labor report, close to 400,000 residents from the commonwealth, or about 20% of the workforce, have filed for unemployment over the past four weeks.

For the week ending on April 4, 117,135 people in the commonwealth submitted jobless claims. There was a total of 113,149 filings for the week ending on March 28. And the week before that, there was a total of 49,023 filings.

The Bluegrass State's preliminary jobless rate is at 5.8%, according to according to the Kentucky Center for Statistics, an agency within the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet. The rate is up 1.6% from February 2020 and up 1.6% from the 4.2% recorded for the commonwealth in March of last year.

“Closures caused by the coronavirus contributed to nearly 63,000 fewer people working in March than in February,” said Mike Clark, interim director of the University of Kentucky’s Center for Business and Economic Research. “The data suggests that approximately half of these individuals appeared to still be looking for work, while half left the labor force."

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has announced a number of changes to the state's unemployment system since the pandemic hit in March:

  • Waiving the seven-day waiting period to obtain unemployment insurance benefits 
  • Work search requirements also waived while the state of emergency is in effect
  • Weekly benefits raised by $600
  • Number of weeks a person can receive benefits is raised to 39 weeks
  • State allowed to expand work share/short-term compensation programs

Across the Ohio River, a little more than 118,000 Indiana residents filed unemployment. This marks the second-consecutive week that new jobless claims have decreased in the Hoosier State.

The number of new jobless claims nationwide is lower than it had been the prior two weeks. But the country is still in unprecedented territory. 

Before the pandemic, the record high for weekly unemployment filings was set in October 1982 at 695,000. For the week ending March 28, 6,867,000 Americans submitted new jobless claims. About 22 million Americans, or 13.5% of the workforce, have filed for unemployment since March 14.

Prior to the last few weeks, the previous high for the 4-week average was 674,000 new jobless claims in the fall of 1982, according to Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group. He added that claims now are more than 8 times that previous high and that the national unemployment rate is likely to move above the post-Great Depression high of 10.8% in late 1982.

"The labor market has imploded as the public health response to the coronavirus, especially restrictions on movement, has led to a sharp drop in economic activity," Faucher said. "Most of the early job losses were in restaurants and retail, but they are now also spreading to other industries, such as manufacturing, construction, healthcare and social assistance and professional/business services."

Meanwhile, Michael Hicks, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, said that Thursday's unemployment report leaves some room for optimsim.

"The encouraging part is that slowing job losses are a sign that earlier lob reports were not terribly understated because of a backlog in unemployment insurance claims," Hicks said. "The slower growth also suggests that estimates of at risk jobs made last month are likely correct and we are not experiencing accelerating job losses as consumer spending and business investment drop."

How to apply for unemployment

In Kentucky, go to: kcc.ky.gov. If you need help, call 502-564-2900 or email UIassistance@ky.gov. For technical assistance, call 502-564-7979.

You also must file on a certain day of the week, based on your last name. Sunday, A-D; Monday: E-H; Tuesday: I-L; Wednesday: M-P; Thursday: Q-U; Friday: V-Z or anyone else who missed their assigned day

In Indiana, go to ind.gov/dwd. You can also reach the Department of Workforce Development at AskUIContactCenter@dwd.IN.gov or 1-800-891-6499.