State-by-State Unemployment Insurance Claims

The US Department of Labor’s weekly report on new unemployment insurance claims showed a continuing surge, with 6.6 million claims made during the week ending April 4. This remarkable increase in jobless claims occurred after more than 10 million new claims were filed in the prior two weeks. Over a three-week period, this amounts to a total of 16.78 million workers who lost their jobs and filed for unemployment insurance. This rapid, unprecedented increase in the number of jobless workers means that about one out of nine (11.1%) workers in the US who were employed heading into March have lost their jobs and filed for unemployment insurance in the past three weeks. The number of people who have been laid off during such a short time frame is unprecedented, even when compared to the deepest recessions in US history.

The Department of Labor reports the filing of new jobless claims nationally, as well as by state. In the months leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, in most states, fewer than 0.5% of a state’s workforce on average would apply for unemployment insurance over a typical three-week period. Since mid-March all states have seen a rapid increase in layoffs and jobless claims but some states have seen much larger increases than others. States with the highest percentages of employees who were laid off and filed for unemployment insurance include Michigan, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Hawaii. Each of these states have seen new jobless claims in the past three weeks that represent over 16% of their respective employees.

The states with the most severe public health crises are not necessarily the states with the highest job losses. New York has far more COVID-19 cases per resident than any other state yet 8.1% of employees in the state (less than the national average) have lost their jobs and filed for unemployment insurance in the past three weeks. Although no state is immune to the economic damages caused by this pandemic, the states of South Dakota, Colorado, West Virginia, Utah, and Florida have experienced the smallest job losses. Between 3.8% and 5.2% of employees in these states lost their jobs and filed for unemployment insurance in the past three weeks. These numbers could change in the coming weeks as businesses are closed due to public health concerns and the final unemployment rates will not be known until the number of hires and quits are reported in a few weeks.


Some of the differences in job losses across states, to date, are attributable to differences in the relative importance of industries and sectors in those states. With reductions in travel and the closing of restaurants, there is no doubt that the leisure and hospitality sector has been devastated by this pandemic. While the leisure and hospitality sector accounts for less than 11% of employment nationwide, leisure and hospitality jobs account for about 25% of Nevada’s workforce and 19% of Hawaii’s workforce. It is not surprising, therefore, that Nevada and Hawaii have experienced some of the largest job losses in the past three weeks.


Another possible reason for state-level differences in job losses to date can be traced to different timelines for the surge in COVID-19 cases and when state and local governments issued shelter-in-place orders. As public health concerns become more acute in some states, job losses and new unemployment insurance claims may follow. Until the next Employment Situation Report is released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on May 8th, which will provide a snapshot picture of the US labor force as of mid-April, the best indicator of the state of the US labor market will be the weekly jobless claims published every Thursday by the Department of Labor. These weekly releases will document in real time the massive job losses incurred both nationwide and at the state by state level.

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Stephen G. Bronars, PhD

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Stephen G. Bronars, PhD

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