Jobless claims hit all-time high, with relief coming to the unemployed

Job losses from COVID-19 spiked last week, with applications for unemployment benefits in Arizona jumping from 3,844 to 29,268 in a week’s time. Nationwide, a record-setting 3 million unemployment insurance claims were filed in the week ending on March 21, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor.

The job losses have been particularly bad in service industries, which have suffered as Americans have broadly instituted social distancing measures, and some states and cities have either sharply limited restaurant operations or gone into more extreme lockdowns. 

Arizona received another 23,500 new unemployment claims on March 23 and March 24, according to CBS5 News and 3TV political editor Dennis Welch. The Arizona Department of Economic Security, which administers the state’s jobless benefit program, said on Friday it will post a weekly unemployment insurance claims report every Monday on its website

Unemployment insurance programs are meant to give workers a cushion while they search for a job. In Arizona, unemployment benefits payments range between $187 and $240 per week, for up to 26 weeks, which workers worry won’t be enough to cover the bleak prospect of a lengthy COVID-19 recession. 

Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday signed legislation that allows DES to establish alternative unemployment insurance benefit eligibility and employer contribution requirements for people and businesses affected by the COVID-19 spread and prevention efforts. It allows people who are not earning wages due to workplace changes due to COVID-19 and those not working to take care of a family member to be eligible for state jobless benefits. These measures apply retroactively to March 10.

Since March 8, DES has also been suspending the “actively seeking work” requirement on applications, which means applicants are not required to prove they are looking for work and apply for other jobs to get unemployment pay. 

Unemployment applications are submitted online at, but the website is unavailable after 6 p.m. every Friday through Saturday for maintenance, said DES spokesman Brett Bezio. 

People without internet access can call 877-600-2722 on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. to apply. Bezio said the telephone service center has a call volume of about 2,500 calls each day.

On Friday, a $2 trillion economic relief bill was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and signed by President Donald Trump. Among many measures, the plan expands unemployment benefits to cover more jobless individuals. 

According to NBC News, the relief bill includes a Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which covers people who are unable to work because of the coronavirus outbreak including independent contractors, gig workers, sick people and those caring for a loved one during the outbreak. 

A second unemployment benefit program gives an extra $600 per week over the next four months for people who are out of work and already getting jobless benefits through their state unemployment insurance program.

While the financial impact is felt broadly across the economy, a Moody’s analysis identified the industries that will be most hard-hit during the COVID-19 economic recession as: mining/oil and gas, transportation, employment services, travel arrangements and leisure and hospitality.

A Brookings Institute analysis based on those industries showed northern Arizona communities are likely to feel the economic pain the most. In Flagstaff, almost 1 out of every 3 of the workers are part of those sectors; in the Prescott and Prescott Valley area, 1 in 4 people work in those industries. In the Phoenix metro, fewer than 1 in 5 workers are employed in those industries.