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COVID-19

State workers under pressure to keep up with soaring unemployment

Jack Stewart Apr 10, 2020
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An unemployment agency office is currently closed because of COVID-19 in Detroit, Michigan on March 26, 2020. Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

State workers under pressure to keep up with soaring unemployment

Jack Stewart Apr 10, 2020
An unemployment agency office is currently closed because of COVID-19 in Detroit, Michigan on March 26, 2020. Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Over the last three weeks, almost 17 million workers have filed for unemployment benefits. Businesses across the country have had to close their doors to customers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The incredible surge in unemployment claims is putting a huge amount of pressure on the public service workers processing them, according to their unions. 

“It’s strenuous, I mean, you feel like the days fly, but the mental stress when you’re home really hits at that time. It’s heavy,” said Helen Esposito, an unemployment claims processor in New York State.

She’s been in the job for almost 30 years and seen other unemployment spikes, like after 9/11, the Great Recession and Hurricane Sandy.

“If you put all of those situations together and times them by three — this is what we’re looking at,” Esposito said.

Unions that represent public employees say many can’t work from home and some are putting in long hours, including weekends. 

Thea Lee, president of the Economic Policy Institute, said the next federal relief package should provide more support to state and local governments.

“If we don’t do that, they will start cutting back, firing people, cutting hours, in the next couple of months,” Lee said. She added that having fewer public service employees doing things like processing unemployment claims, runs the risk of exacerbating the economic crisis for everyone.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What do I need to know about tax season this year?

Glad you asked! We have a whole separate FAQ section on that. Some quick hits: The deadline has been extended from April 15 to May 17 for individuals. Also, millions of people received unemployment benefits in 2020 — up to $10,200 of which will now be tax-free for those with an adjusted gross income of less than $150,000. And, for those who filed before the American Rescue Plan passed, simply put, you do not need to file an amended return at the moment. Find answers to the rest of your questions here.

How long will it be until the economy is back to normal?

It feels like things are getting better, more and more people getting vaccinated, more businesses opening, but we’re not entirely out of the woods. To illustrate: two recent pieces of news from the Centers for Disease Control. Item 1: The CDC is extending its tenant eviction moratorium to June 30. Item 2: The cruise industry didn’t get what it wanted — restrictions on sailing from U.S. ports will stay in place until November. Very different issues with different stakes, but both point to the fact that the CDC thinks we still have a ways to go before the pandemic is over, according to Dr. Philip Landrigan, who used to work at the CDC and now teaches at Boston College.

How are those COVID relief payments affecting consumers?

Payments started going out within days of President Joe Biden signing the American Rescue Plan, and that’s been a big shot in the arm for consumers, said John Leer at Morning Consult, which polls Americans every day. “Consumer confidence is really on a tear. They are growing more confident at a faster rate than they have following the prior two stimulus packages.” Leer said this time around the checks are bigger and they’re getting out faster. Now, rising confidence is likely to spark more consumer spending. But Lisa Rowan at Forbes Advisor said it’s not clear how much or how fast.

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