Jobless

Unemployment claims have reached all-time highs throughout Virginia and nationwide in the past couple of weeks due to layoffs related to the coronavirus outbreak.

“Our numbers have increased drastically,” said Joyce Fogg, a spokesperson with the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC). “A couple of weeks ago, we were having 320 claims a day. Now we’re having 8,000 to 10,000 claims a day at least.”

The figure for seasonally unadjusted initial claims in Virginia was 112,497 for the week ending March 28. That is an increase of 66,220 Virginian claimants from 46,277 for the week ending March 21. The increase in the number of claimants from the week ending March 14 to the week ending March 21 was an astounding 43,571, from 2,706 to 46,277 in Virginia.

In Halifax County, the number of initial unemployment insurance claims rose by 252 over the past couple of weeks, from five for the week ending on March 14 to 66 the week ending on March 21 and 318 for the week ending on March 28.

That compares to an increase of 671 claims over the same two-week timeframe in neighboring Pittsylvania County, and an increase of 196 claims in neighboring Mecklenburg County.

The number of initial unemployment claims filed in Virginia during the week ending March 28 was 110,397 higher than the same week last year – more than a 5,000% increase. Northern Virginia and eastern Virginia are the regions with the highest number of unemployment claims.

Nationwide, seasonally adjusted initial claims for the week ending March 28 were 6,648,000, an increase of 3,341,000 from the previous week’s revised level. This marks the highest level of seasonally adjusted initial claims in the history of the seasonally adjusted series. The previous high was the significantly lower number of 695,000 in October of 1982.

Because of the large number of unemployment claims being filed, the wait time to file a claim through the VEC over the phone is longer than two hours, Fogg said. The fastest way to file a claim is by visiting the VEC website (www.vec.virginia.gov). Fogg advised those filing a claim to ensure that they are on the VEC website, ending in .gov, prior to entering their personal information in order to protect themselves from scammers.

“There are scammers out there trying to get your information and your money,” Fogg said.

The hardest-hit industries in Virginia during the coronavirus outbreak are service-related industries, specifically the accommodation and food services industries, the VEC reports. Many of the businesses in those industries have been forced to close or restrict their operations because of government mandates aimed at decreasing the spread of the coronavirus.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s Executive Order No. 53, which became effective March 24, mandated the closure of recreational and entertainment businesses, including beauty salons, theaters, amusement parks and museums. The order also mandated that restaurants, breweries, tasting rooms and distilleries close their “dining and congregation areas.” Those businesses can only remain open for delivery and take-out services. In addition, Order No. 53 mandates that non-essential retail businesses limit their operations to “10 patrons or less with adequate social distancing” or close if they cannot abide by those restrictions.

Certain rules on unemployment also have changed as a result of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Under the CARES Act, the one-week waiting period and requirement to conduct a weekly job search are both suspended for those filing unemployment claims starting March 15.

Fogg said the VEC is awaiting further guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor regarding the impacts of the CARES Act on unemployment claims and is in the process of updating its Information Technology system to include the CARES Act information.

Miranda Baines is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at mbaines@gazettevirginian.com.

Miranda Baines is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at mbaines@gazettevirginian.com.