With the coronavirus pandemic now in its seventh month, new unemployment claims have skyrocketed in Carroll County, as 506 new claims were reported for the week ending Oct. 3, driven by a spike in claims for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation.
The total is nearly double the new claims seen the week ending Sept. 26 and more than five times the number reported the week ending Sept. 19. The new claims are the most reported since the week ending June 13, when the Maryland Department of Labor reported 653 new claims.
About 55% of the new claims the week ending Oct. 3 were Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) claims. These claims are for 13 weeks of extended unemployment benefits for people who have exhausted standard 26-week benefits and potentially a prior 13 weeks of PEUC benefits.
Heather Powell, manager of the Carroll County Business/Employment Resource Center, and Mike McMullin, president of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, said they hadn’t heard of any major layoffs.
Statewide, the number of unemployment claims doubled from the previous week. Among the 30,060 new unemployment claims statewide, 12,787 or about 42% were for PEUC benefits.
When unemployment will return to pre-pandemic levels is a big question mark, Powell said.
“People are hesitant right now because a lot of people are considered to be furloughed and feel like at some point they will be called back to work," she said. "Coupled with the return to school virtually, that has really put a strain on people as to whether [they] ride out [their] unemployment benefits or if [they] go looking for something different.”
McMullin said he doesn’t expect unemployment levels to return to normal until there is a widely distributed vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Carroll County’s employment rate of 5.0% as of August is the lowest among jurisdictions in the state, according to the latest state labor department data. That mark is down from an April high of 9.4% and 5.8% in July. Maryland’s overall unemployment rate is 7.0% as of August.
Carroll County’s manufacturing sector hasn’t been impacted as much by the pandemic as restaurants and other sectors, which has helped keep the county’s unemployment rate lower than every other area, McMullin said.
Small “mom and pop” retail shops on main streets are getting hit hard, though, he said.
“Not only do they have to compete with the Amazons of the world and the larger box stores in a normal year, but now they have to compete with folks not wanting to go into stores,” McMullin said. “They’re probably feeling the pain a little bit, which is why I always advocate buying local. These are your neighbors.”
With fear of the virus, restaurants in the area are getting hit the hardest, McMullin said.
“It’s a shame because a lot of these little places are jewels in the community,” he said. “If we don’t support them, some of them will be gone. That will suck when it’s back to normal and your favorite restaurant is no longer there.”