CORONAVIRUS

Iowans' initial unemployment claims up from last week

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DES MOINES — Claims for unemployment insurance benefits in Iowa remain high but may begin a gradual descent as some businesses in 77 of Iowa’s 99 counties are allowed to resume operations on a limited basis Friday.

Iowa Workforce Development officials Thursday reported the number of initial claims for unemployment insurance benefits in Iowa was higher last week at 28,827, but well below the weekly peak hit earlier this month of 64,194, according to data from the U.S. Labor Department.

Jobless insurance benefit payments in Iowa totaled more than $51.4 million, according to state officials.

Nationally, another 3.8 million Americans filed first-time unemployment claims last week, bringing the total since mid-March to over 30 million.

In Iowa, the number of continuing weekly claims was 170,990.

Industries hit hardest with jobless claims last week in Iowa were manufacturing (7,402), health care and social assistance (4,190), self-employed, independent contractors and other non-specified categories (4,182), retail trade (2,472) and accommodation and food services (2,130).

This week, more than $102.7 million in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefits were paid to 153,951 Iowans. Since April 4, a total of $327.75 million in benefits has been paid.

In addition a total of $4.81 million was paid to 13,344 Iowans under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program — covering those who typically don’t qualify for unemployment aid such as independent contractors.

The 261,740 unemployment claims filed in the state over the past six weeks are the most for any similar stretch in Iowa history — at least dating to the Great Depression.

Earlier this week, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced limited-capacity re-openings would begin for restaurants, fitness centers and retailers for 77 counties where the coronavirus has not been found to be widespread or even at all.

Businesses in the 22 other counties were ordered to continue closures and restrictions until May 15.

State officials announced this week that Iowans who are recalled to work but who refuse may be notified they are ineligible for aid.

Reynolds said she was starting the process of easing “an aggressive mitigation strategy” by returning some normalcy to areas where data on the spread of coronavirus points to a stabilization or downward trend in positive cases or no cases at all.

Counties not included in the eased restrictions are Allamakee, Benton, Black Hawk, Bremer, Dallas, Des Moines, Dubuque, Fayette, Henry, Iowa, Jasper, Johnson, Linn, Louisa, Marshall, Muscatine, Polk, Poweshiek, Scott, Tama, Washington and Woodbury.

On March 17, the governor declared a statewide public health disaster emergency that included limiting gatherings to 10 people and closing bars, restaurants, casinos and other businesses. She later expanded it to include a wide swath of Iowa business and social activities.

But on Monday, she said she was worried that if those measures if continued much longer they would cause lasting harm to Iowa’s economy.

Under Reynolds’ new proclamation, restaurants and shopping malls in the selected counties will be limited to 50 percent of their capacity and will be expected to continue to observe social-distancing guidelines. Play areas in malls will not be open and food courts will be limited to carryout orders, the governor said.

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Still closed statewide until May 15 are bars, theaters, casinos and gaming facilities, social and fraternal clubs, senior-citizen centers and adult day care facilities, all bingo halls, bowling alleys, pool halls, arcades and amusement parks, museums, aquariums, zoos, skating rinks and skate parks, playgrounds, campgrounds, swimming pools, salons, barbershops, medical spas, tattoo establishments, tanning facilities and massage therapy businesses.

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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All donations are tax-deductible.