Unemployment claims reach staggering heights and overwhelm state systems

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Unemployment records continue to shatter in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Nationwide jobless claims last week soared to more than 6 million.  That is double the record set last week.

Prior to the pandemic, the nation averaged around 200,000 unemployment claims each week.

“We’re in uncharted territory, quite honestly.  We haven’t seen these numbers since the Great Depression and even then they didn’t happen as rapidly as this,” said UIndy finance professor Matt Will.

Will predicts with businesses across the country being forced to stay closed in the weeks ahead, the unemployment numbers will get worse before they get better and recovery won’t be quick.

“We’re at about 10 million people who have filed unemployment claims in the last month.  These are numbers we wouldn’t dream of in our worst-case scenario,” said Will.  “This is not going to be short-lived. We’re going to have long-term consequences to this. People thinking we’ll rebound quickly are deluding themselves. This will take a while to come back.”

The historic spike in unemployment claims has also left many state labor departments struggling to keep up.

“We’re seeing claims levels that are off the charts.  Not only do we not have a call center staffed appropriately to handle that, but the infrastructure is just overwhelmed,” said Josh Richardson with the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

The state’s website warns people that due to heavy call volume, wait times are longer than usual.

That’s why Richardson encourages everyone to use the state’s unemployment website to answer their questions and not to call their undermanned call center.

“We’re working very hard at it.  We take it seriously.  We want to answer everyone’s questions.  That’s why we’re updating commonly asked questions on the website at much as possible,” said Richardson.

“We have to find a way to get the economy back to work,” said Will.  “If we don’t do that, this is going to look disastrous.  We’re going to have people out of their homes, out of their jobs and not being able to feed their families.  We have to figure out a way to get the economy moving and deal with the virus at the same time.”

State leaders are trying to expand the call center staff, even adding employees from other agencies, but it will take time to get them trained.

A majority of Hoosiers will see their first benefit payment 21 days after filing their initial claim.

Anyone with information can visit www.unemployment.in.gov.

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