Unemployment rate may reach record high this month

Nearly 9,000 people filed for unemployment in March, and over that number halfway through April

By Reggie Ellis

TULARE COUNTY – Unemployment in Tulare County reached a fever pitch last month as jobless claims hit a record high of nearly 7,000 people on March 28.

That was over 14 times higher than the monthly average of 500 claims in the weeks prior to the Governor’s shelter-in-place order on March 19, according to new, county-level data released by the Tulare County Workforce Investment Board (WIB) last week. In just two weeks, unemployment claims jumped from 421 for the week of March 14 to 859 the week of March 21 and then 6,996 for the week ending March 28. Since the shelter-in-place order, more than 16,000 people have filed for unemployment in Tulare County.

“This nearly a 20 fold increase in new UI claims in a two week period, starkly illustrates that our local economy is in the midst of an unprecedented economic upheaval,” said Adam Peck, executive director of the Tulare County WIB, which connects workers and employers with services.

In September 2019, Tulare County’s unemployment rate dropped to 7.6%, the third lowest since the state began tracking the county’s unemployment in 1990, second only to a record low of 7.1% in May and September 2006.

When April numbers are released in mid-May, Peck expects Tulare County’s unemployment to come in at or near a historic high of 21-24%. The highest unemployment rate ever recorded in Tulare County was 24.4% in March 1991 following the 1990 freeze that decimated the county’s agriculture industry. Peck said he doesn’t think March’s rate will reach that high but it will probably top the next highest rates of 20.7% in March 1990 following the 1998 freeze and 19.5% in March 2010 in the aftermath of the housing crash.

“In less than a half a year, we may go from a near record low to a near record high for unemployment insurance claims,” Peck said.

Unemployment claims did drop off in the weeks following March 28, but were still record highs when compared with pre-pandemic numbers. More than 9,600 people filed for unemployment in the first half of April.

“This may be the first time unemployment peaks in April instead of March,” Peck said. “In the two weeks since that initial sharp increase, new claims continue to be filed at historically high levels, indicating that the economic impacts of this pandemic continue to reverberate through our community.”

New numbers will be released on May 22 and will provide a better understanding of COVID-19’s devastating effect. The EDD released its preliminary unemployment rate of 14.5% for March on April 17, but those numbers were derived from a household survey conducted a week and a half before the state shut down nonessential segments of the economy.

“Unfortunately, it’s not a useful portrait of the current state of our local economy,” Peck said in a recent post about the information. ““So, for now, we will continue to share the weekly new claims data to provide a barometer of local job losses.”

The WIB will be sharing information on new, weekly claims in Tulare County on its website at www.tularewib.org/datahub, so that the community can better gauge the impact of the public health crisis on the local economy.

Data regarding national weekly new unemployment insurance claims is available going back to 1967. Due to COVID-19, the nation is now experiencing an unprecedented spike in the number of new claims filed. For the week ending March 28, more than 6,867,000 claims were filed, 10 times higher than previous record of 671,000 claims in September 1982.

Peck said he is hopeful that much of the economy is on standby and will be able to return to normal once the shelter-in-place orders have been amended or lifted. Despite the gloomy economy, there are still sectors of the economy that are adding jobs. Employment Connection’s Hot Jobs list for April 21 listed maintenance/custodial workers, welders, stockers and cashiers, shipping specialists, mechanics, truck drivers, forklift/equipment operators and packers. To apply, call the WIB at 559-713-5190 or visit www.tularewib.org/covid-19. Tulare County also has a large segment of its population working in industries that are the least impacted by the pandemic – agriculture and government.

“We hope that it rebounds quickly,” Peck said.

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