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Over 384K filed for unemployment in Michigan last week, bringing virus total to 817K

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

The state has exceeded Great Recession-level weekly unemployment numbers for the third week straight, setting a new high point with more than 384,000 people filing last week under expanded benefits prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.  

A record 384,844 people filed for unemployment benefits between March 29 and April 4 in Michigan, according to the Associated Press. The figure eclipses the 128,006 who filed for unemployment between March 15 and March 21 and the 304,335 who filed for unemployment between March 22 and March 28.

The virus-prompted filings bring the three-week total to 817,185 jobless claims in Michigan.

The numbers reflect the "deep impact" of the pandemic in Michigan, said Jeff Donofrio, director for the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity. 

“We’re committed to making sure every eligible Michigander receives their full unemployment benefits during this crisis," Donofrio said. "The only way we’ll be able to turn the corner economically is to slow and stop the transmission of this virus.” 

The claims represent what the East Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group called a "shocking 16.5% of the state’s labor force."

“We’re seeing unemployment application systems crash across the country due to unprecedented demand. Some workers are being furloughed, asked to take a pay cut, or are taking mandatory paid time off. Small business owners are struggling to keep their doors open as states extend stay-at-home policies," Anderson Economic Group's Brian Peterson said in a statement.

"Because of this, we believe over 100 million Americans will lose a measurable amount of income in April.”

The state of Michigan on average has roughly 5,000 claims filed a week. During the Great Recession, an average of 31,500 initial claims were filed on a weekly basis in Michigan between October 2008 and July 2009 with a peak week of 77,000, according to data from the state Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.

People who have submitted claims should expect to begin collecting unemployment within about two weeks of approval, according to the state agency.

Nationally, roughly 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment last week, a figure that was preceded by 6.9 million the week prior and 3.3 million two weeks before.

University of Michigan economists reported Thursday the national unemployment rate is expected to reach 16% in May and average 14% during the second quarter. In Michigan, the unemployment rate is expected to rise to about 24% in the second quarter, making it higher than during the 2009 recession and the previous peak of about 16% in the fourth quarter of 1982, according to the report.

“This recession is very different from previous downturns because limiting the spread of the disease requires many non-essential workers to stay away from their jobs,” wrote the economists, who are part of UM’s Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics.

The state unemployment system has been plagued by delays under the load of new applications that are being submitted almost exclusively online because of the closure of many unemployment offices. 

The state has added server capacity and asked residents to try filing in off hours between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Monday she would be among the workers and volunteers answering calls from those who were unable to file through online submission. 

On March 16, six days after the state confirmed its first cases of COVID-19, Whitmer expanded the state unemployment benefits to include those out of work caring for family members, either because they are sick or because of school closures.

Workers who are "sick, quarantined or immunocompromised" and who don't have paid family and medical leave or are laid off also are now eligible for benefits. In addition, first responders who become sick or quarantined can apply.

Benefits also increased from 20 to 26 weeks, and the application eligibility period was raised from 14 to 28 days. The state suspended in-person registration and work search requirements.

In the $2.2 trillion economic stimulus package approved last week, the White House and Congress expanded the unemployment benefits system by adding $600 a week in jobless aid on top of what individuals may get from their states.

A graphic from Michigan's Unemployment Insurance Agency explains a new process through which the state is asking people to file claims on different days of the week based on their last names. The process is meant to help deal with the high demand for unemployment benefits.

Critics and some Michigan employers have argued that the enhanced benefits are creating a disincentive for employees to return to work and, in some instances, created an incentive for essential workers to ask to be temporarily laid off because the benefits are higher than what they earn on the job.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

Detroit News Staff Writers Mark Hicks and Christine MacDonald contributed.