CORONAVIRUS

More than 27,000 Iowans filed for unemployment benefits this week

Unemployment claim count surpasses 26 million nationwide

Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend talks about the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak during a
Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend talks about the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference at the State Emergency Operations Center on April 9. (Associated Press)

Iowa’s unemployment insurance claims continued to build last week, at the same time as unemployment numbers dipped nationwide and the head of Iowa Workforce Development expressed concern jobless benefits could discourage some from seeking employment.

Iowa Workforce Development on Thursday reported 27,912 claims were filed between April 12 and April 18.

At the same time, the U.S. Department of Labor announced there were 4.4 million new jobless claims filed nationwide last week — down from 5.2 million claims the week before. That brought the total number of U.S. claimants to 26.5 million.

That figure represents roughly the population of the 10 biggest U.S. cities combined, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

While one in six American employees are out of work because of the coronavirus pandemic, most economics experts do not expect a downturn as severe as the Great Depression of the 1930s, when unemployment held above 14 percent from 1931 to 1940 and peaked at 25 percent, the AP said.

However, experts believe it is likely that elevated unemployment will continue into 2021 and beyond, almost certainly topping the 10-percent peak of the 2008-09 recession.

In Iowa, nearly 233,000 jobless benefit claims have been filed over the past five weeks, the state noted.

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Iowa’s latest weekly tally represents fewer new unemployment insurance claims than were filed over the previous two weeks — 46,356 last week and a peak of 67,334 the week before. They are a significant increase from figures dating back at least 20 years.

In total, approximately $48.1 million in state unemployment insurance benefits was paid to claimants over the past week.

There were 27,912 initial claims filed last week, while the number of continuing weekly unemployment claims was 151,846, according to Iowa data reported by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Idled workers from the following sectors had the most claims in the past week:

• Manufacturing — 5,143

• Health care and social assistance — 3,985

• Other industries, including self-employed individuals and independent contractors — 3,817

• Retail trade — 3,307

• Accommodation and food services — 2,606.

An additional total of $169.6 million was paid to 253,557 Iowans in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefits, under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act.

‘Biggest threat’

Iowa is among the 36 states where the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation’s extra weekly $600 payment has resulted in people collecting unemployment benefits receiving, on average, more money each week than they otherwise would have earned from their jobs, the New York Times reported Thursday.

The average Iowa worker could expect to see an estimated 120 percent increase in unemployment benefits compared to their normal salary — the fourth-greatest such increase nationwide, behind only Maine, New Mexico and Idaho — up from benefits that typically would amount to less than half that worker’s weekly salary, the Times said.

The Times calculated its figures by analyzing each state’s “replacement rate,” or the share of a worker’s wages replaced by unemployment benefits, determined by dividing the average unemployment payment by the average 40-hour-a-week salary of recipients.

Beth Townsend, director of Iowa Workforce Development, on Wednesday described the gap between what workers can receive from unemployment benefits compared to a job as the “biggest threat” to getting people back to work in the short term.

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“I think it’s why we see so many employers who are advertising desperately for workers and having a hard time getting anybody to get off the sidelines and come into work,” she said during a webinar hosted by ICR Iowa.

COVID-19 health concerns, too, factor into workers not filling those jobs, Townsend noted.

“But still, when you’re competing against $1,200 in weekly unemployment benefits, it’s hard for an employer to compete with that,” she said.

“If you’re offering $20 an hour for a job, you’re still not paying at the same rate that they’re making in unemployment.”

The maximum amount of state unemployment benefits a laid-off Iowan who qualifies can receive varies based on how many dependents a claimant has, officials have said.

For a claimant with four dependents, the maximum is $591 per week, while for a claimant with no dependents the maximum weekly amount is $481. The $600 CARES Act aid is in addition to that.

Separately, Iowa began paying Pandemic Unemployment Assistance weekly benefits to self-employed Iowans, distributing a total $6.3 million to 13,152 people this past week.

Officials say employers or claimants in Iowa with questions can email Iowa Workforce Development at uiclaimshelp@iwd.iowa.gov or call 1-866-239-0843, though wait times are lengthy.

Also, Iowans can file claims or get more information at IowaWorkforceDevelopment.gov.

Comments: (319) 398-8366; thomas.friestad@thegazette.com

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