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
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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

Will the federal government extend the extra COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

It’s still unclear. Congress and President Donald Trump are deciding whether to extend the extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits workers are getting because of the pandemic. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia believes the program should not be extended, and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the additional money is disincentivizing some workers from returning to their jobs. Democrats want to keep providing the money until January.

As states lift restrictions, are people going back to stores and restaurants?

States have relaxed their restrictions, and many of us have relaxed, too. Some people have started to make exceptions for visiting restaurants, if only for outdoor dining. Some are only going to places they trust are being extra cautious. But no one we’ve talked to has really gone back to normal. People just aren’t quite there yet.

Will surges in COVID-19 cases mean a return to lockdowns?

In many areas where businesses are reopening, cases of COVID-19 are trending upwards, causing some to ask if the lockdowns were lifted too soon, and if residents and businesses might have to go through it all again. So, how likely is another lockdown, of some sort? The answer depends on who you ask. Many local officials are now bullish about keeping businesses open to salvage their economies. Health experts, though, are concerned.

You can find answers to more questions here.

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