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More than 300,000 Michigan residents filed for unemployment last week under an expansion of the state's unemployment benefits prompted by coronavirus-related business closures. 

A reported 311,086 people filed for unemployment benefits that week as of Saturday, according to the Associated Press. The figure is more than double the 128,006 who filed in Michigan the week before. 

The state has reported the total slightly lower at 303,638 initial claims filed. The reason for the discrepancy between the two numbers was not immediately clear.

“The unprecedented increase in unemployment claims demonstrate the economic hardship that COVID-19 has caused for so many across our country and here in Michigan," said Jeff Donofrio, director for the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity. 

"The Unemployment Insurance Agency continues to work around the clock to provide emergency financial assistance to working families." 

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

More: Weekly unemployment claims

Michigan's claims were among a record of more than 6.6 million Americans who applied for unemployment benefits last week, which signaled that layoffs are accelerating during the coronavirus outbreak.

Combined with last week’s report that 3.3 million people sought unemployment aid two weeks ago, the U.S. economy has experienced almost 10 million layoffs in the past few weeks. 

The largest number of claims in Michigan were filed the state's most populated counties: Wayne, Macomb, Oakland and Kent counties. 

Wayne County reported 71,057 claims; Macomb, 48,511; Oakland, 43,479; and Kent 23,800, according to state data. The three Metro Detroit counties accounted for more than half of the state's jobless claims.

The largest two-week changes occurred in Ottawa and Washtenaw counties, where unemployment claims increased 431%.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Michigan was averaging about 5,000 claims a week, according to the Unemployment Insurance Agency. This means the more than 300,000 recently filed claims represent 62 times more claims than a normal week.

Across the nation, a record 6.6 million people filed unemployment claims last week, according to the Labor Department. The number doubled the nearly 3.3 million people who filed the week prior. 

Some economists are predicting there could be as many as 20 million lost jobs by the end of the month and the country's unemployment rate could spike to 15%, according to the Associated Press. 

"The 6 million new unemployment claims is just the tip of this iceberg of loss," East Lansing-based economist Patrick Anderson said in a Thursday statement. "I expect 90% of those losing income have not filed for unemployment, particularly those who are self-employed or in small businesses struggling to keep their doors open."

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.

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

Michigan ranked fourth in the nation for unemployment claims last week, the total exceeding all but California, where 878,727 claims were filed; Pennsylvania, where 405,880 claims were filed, and New York, where 366,403 claims were filed. 

The 311,086 filed last week and the 128,006 filed the week prior exceed any other week total in Michigan dating back to 2000. 

The nearest week totals in Michigan were in January 2009, when 76,702 claims were filed; December 2000, when 57,628 claims were filed, and July 2001, when 54,604 claims were filed. 

The uptick in unemployment claims in Michigan has caused the state's unemployment website to slow drastically and at times go offline completely. 

The state has recommended those filing for unemployment attempt to do so during off hours, between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m., to lessen the pressure on the system. The state also has expanded server capacity to try to help meet the demand. 

"We appreciate the continued patience residents have shown and are committed to making sure every eligible Michigander who files an unemployment claim receives their benefits," Donofrio said. 

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

Staff Writer Christine MacDonald contributed

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