Published in Economic Development

One quarter of Michigan’s workforce has filed for unemployment

BY Thursday, April 16, 2020 10:01am

Another 219,000 Michigan residents filed unemployment claims last week as the state’s total exceeds 1 million amid the economic fallout of the coronavirus.

Nationwide, unemployment claims total 22 million since the outbreak ramped up last month. Initially fueled by widespread service-industry closures, jobless claims have continued to increase as the economic effects ripple through the economy.

Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Director Jeff Donofrio COURTESY PHOTO

Kent and Ottawa counties rank in the top three Michigan counties with the highest percentage growth in claims filed since mid-February. 

For the week ending Feb. 22, Kent County had 3,824 claims while Ottawa had 1,594. The number of claims grew by 56,177, or 1,551 percent, in Kent County through April 11. Ottawa County’s claims grew by 25,528 in the same period, or 1,752 percent.

“We continue to see the deep economic pain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic across the nation and in Michigan, where a quarter of our workforce has filed for unemployment,” Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Director Jeff Donofrio said in a statement. “We appreciate the patience of our working families as we process the historic need for benefits.”

The new numbers come after reports this week about the status of Michigan’s unemployment benefits fund, which started out the crisis with $4.6 billion and was among the strongest in the nation. So far, Michigan has paid out roughly $745 million in unemployment payments to more than 725,000 people — “and those numbers are increasing everyday,” Donofrio said.

State officials have had to ramp up staffing and respond to website crashes because of the overwhelming demand on the system, including from new claimants such as independent contractors who previously weren’t eligible for unemployment benefits. Over the last month, 1,041,015 initial claims have been filed in Michigan. At the height of the Great Recession in January 2009, claims were slightly more than 363,000.

“We know there is more work to do to improve our systems and we’re committed to quickly providing every dollar of emergency financial assistance our workers are entitled to,” Donofrio said.

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