Oregon New Unemployment Claims Spike

In three weeks’ time, the Oregon Employment Department has received 269,900 initial claims for unemployment benefits. By comparison, net job losses in Oregon totaled 147,800 for the duration of the Great Recession.

During the week starting March 29 alone, the Oregon Employment Department received 100,700 initial claims, continuing the record levels of initial claims received the previous two weeks. The agency continues rapidly adding staff to take claims, and processing claims at a record pace. The federal CARES Act payments of $600 will also start processing through Oregon’s system by the end of this week.

In one month’s time, the Oregon Employment Department more than quadrupled the number of staff dedicated to taking claims. Those staff continue to process record numbers of claims week after week. The Employment Department processed more claims during the first quarter of 2020 than the total for all of 2019. The agency’s newly re-designed COVID-19 page includes expanded resource guides for employers and workers filing claims, and a new dashboard of measures showing our response to the unprecedented need for unemployment benefits.

The agency paid $28 million in benefits to Oregonians during the week starting March 29. That figure should increase rapidly as the additional CARES Act benefits of $600 per week start for those already eligible for unemployment benefits. The agency continues receiving guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor, and is working to implement the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program into its systems. The PUA benefits allow the self-employed, contract workers, and gig workers not already eligible to receive unemployment benefits for the first time.

While it remains critically important that all who can file claims online do so, the agency has also extended contact center hours to 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on weekdays for filing claims by phone. Even with rapid expansion of staff to take claims, wait times averaged 106 minutes on claims phone lines.

The Employment Department has detailed information for 54,500 of the initial claims processed during the week starting March 29. The leisure and hospitality sector, which includes hotels and restaurants, continued to see the greatest number of initial claims for unemployment benefits (14,400). This reflects impacts of public health and safety measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March 15, there have been about 40,600 initial claims filed in the leisure and hospitality sector. Many initial claims also came from workers in health care and social assistance (8,800) and retail trade (7,100) during the week of March 29.

Multnomah (12,100), Washington (6,600), and Lane (5,300) were the counties with the largest number of claims (see table on next page). More initial claims data by industry and area can be found on the QualityInfo.org COVID-19 page.

Source: Oregon Employment Department

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