What it’s like to run a state unemployment office right now
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Twenty-two million Americans have filed for unemployment insurance in the past month, putting a sudden strain on state offices that handle the program. In Texas, the country’s second-biggest state economy, more than 1 million people have filed. Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal spoke with Ed Serna, executive director of the Texas Workforce Commission, which oversees the state’s unemployment benefits.
“This is the sixth state agency that I’ve worked at in Texas state government in about 34 years,” Serna said. “Nothing has been as challenging, as nerve-wracking, as stressful as this.”
The Texas Workforce Commission, like other unemployment offices across the country, has added staff and expanded hours. Even with three new call centers operating, Serna said getting through to the office is still a challenge.
“We know we can help people once they get to us,” Serna said. “And our frustration is, the volume just continues to increase. Yesterday we received over 2 million calls, and we couldn’t answer them all, obviously, because that’s about 61 calls a second.”
Click the audio player above to hear the interview.
COVID-19 Economy FAQs
New COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. are on the rise. How are Americans reacting?
Johns Hopkins University reports the seven-day average of new cases hit 68,767 on Sunday — a record — eclipsing the previous record hit in late July during the second, summer wave of infection. A funny thing is happening with consumers though: Even as COVID-19 cases rise, Americans don’t appear to be shying away from stepping indoors to shop or eat or exercise. Morning Consult asked consumers how comfortable they feel going out to eat, to the shopping mall or on a vacation. And their willingness has been rising. Surveys find consumers’ attitudes vary by age and income, and by political affiliation, said Chris Jackson, who heads up polling at Ipsos.
How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?
Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.
How are Americans feeling about their finances?
Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.
Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.