Amid COVID-19 pandemic, Missouri unemployment claims increase tenfold

Posted on 26 March 2020 at 2:58pm

COLUMBIA - More than 42,000 Missourians filed for unemployment in the last week, according to new data released Thursday by the Missouri Department of Labor.

The number jumped from 3,976 on March 14, to 42,207 on Friday. According to a press release from the department, this is "the highest level of seasonally adjusted initial claims in the history of the seasonally adjusted series."

The spike in claims comes amid stay-at-home orders in Columbia, St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield, that have forced some businesses to close or lay off staff. 

At the Governor's daily press briefing yesterday, Governor Parson said in the last week the department has seen 30% of the total number of unemployment claims it received in all of 2019. 

Department of Labor Director, Anna Hui, said her department is relaxing work search requirements and waiving the week long waiting period to get workers benefits faster.

"We've added capacity, we have added staff, so we have all support systems in place," she said during yesterday's briefing.

Nationwide, last week the number of unemployment claims increased more than 3.3 million according to new numbers released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Labor.

"It is a unique experience for a lot of people, and there are folks who may have gone decades without ever being in this spot," Job Point Director of Rehabilitation Services John Scalise said. "If you just Google search unemployment in Missouri and follow those links, there's a tutorial video in there."

So, what is the process for those filing for unemployment? 

"Start with filling out an unemployment application, at least get your name in there," Scalise said. "After you fill out the form, there'll be some contact, whether it's a phone call or an email back from them."

After you hear back, you will know more about the resources available to you.

"Once that process gets started, that's where you'll figure out how much you're going to be getting in unemployment, when those checks will be coming to you," he said.

He also said the historic $2 trillion economic rescue package passed by the Senate late Wednesday night could be a big help. The package contains specific measures to address the spike in unemployment claims.

"With the stimulus money that they are putting out there, it may create more opportunities for people than they normally would have," he said.

Despite the large number of claims, Scalise said there are still businesses looking to hire workers right now.

"I think there's a lot of delivery type positions, thinking about skills that you have, finding ways that you can offer those and market those to others, looking at positions that provide you at least a reasonable income for the moment," he said. "The grass is growing and so lawn care and outdoor stuff is becoming more and more available to people, but the types of positions with the higher pay may be more and more difficult for people to come by."

In addition to the Department of Labor website, Scalise recommended unemployment workers look at the Central Missouri Community Action center's resource guide.

"If you go to that website and you click on those links, it will give you the businesses that you can reach out to," he said.

While the times may be tough now, Scalise said he is confident the community will help each other get through it.

"I'm optimistic that that we're going to come together and we're going to find a way through this," he said. "I really believe Columbia is an amazing community and that people will reach out and look out for each other as much as possible."