A record 3.3 million Americans, including 42,000 Marylanders, filed for jobless benefits last week, overwhelming the country’s unemployment system and creating a backlog for processing the unprecedented surge of claims.
The stunning spike in demand for unemployment benefits, tied to the coronavirus pandemic that has forced the shutdown of many businesses, is more than four times the previous record, set in 1982.
And it is causing delays for many of the service workers seeking benefits. Maryland labor officials said claims must be processed through a U.S. Department of Labor database used to verify claimants’ Social Security numbers, but that system has been overloaded.
“Their system is operating at decreased capacity and this is creating a backlog here in Maryland and across the country,” Fallon Pearre, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Labor, said in an email.
Department officials advised residents to visit the state’s unemployment insurance filing website in the early morning or late evening for faster service.
In just one week, our team at @MD_Labor received over 42,000 new unemployment insurance claims. This is truly unprecedented. As many customers face longer wait times than usual and have difficulty accessing our website, we ask for your patience and understanding. pic.twitter.com/okAKQEIM4k
In Maryland, jobless claims were most numerous in Baltimore County, with nearly 6,800 people losing their jobs, about 8 residents per 1,000. Job losses were about twice as concentrated in Worcester County, however, where the start of Ocean City tourism season is on hold amid the pandemic.
The 42,334 unemployment claims filed in the state in the week that ended Saturday is more than three times more than the state’s previous high, 12,528 claims in the week that ended Jan. 9, 2010, according to data going back to 1987.
In comparison, 3,852 Marylanders filed for unemployment benefits during the week that ended March 14. The state received 2,090 jobless claims the week before that.
As job losses mount, some economists say the nation’s unemployment rate could approach 13% by May. By comparison, the highest jobless rate during the Great Recession, which ended in 2009, was 10%.
The economic deterioration has been swift. As recently as February, the unemployment rate was at a 50-year low of 3.5%. And the economy was growing steadily, if modestly. Yet by the April-June quarter of the year, some economists think the economy will shrink at its steepest annual pace ever — a contraction that could reach 30%.
One provision in the bill would provide an extra $600 a week on top of the unemployment aid that states provide, which in Maryland ranges from $50 to $430 a week. Another element would add 13 weeks of benefits beyond the six months of jobless aid offered in most states, including Maryland.
Separate legislation passed by Congress last week provides up to $1 billion to states to enhance their ability to process claims. But that money will take time to be disbursed.
The state is also permitting residents to file for unemployment even if they haven’t been formally laid off, if their workplace has closed because of the pandemic. And Maryland is temporarily waiving requirements that people on unemployment be actively searching for new work.