Unemployment rates for the Twin Counties have changed drastically during the pandemic, according to data released from the state Department of Labor on Wednesday.
The region’s unemployment rate was low prior to the outbreak, with Columbia County at 3.8% and Greene County at 5%. Post-COVID, Columbia County’s unemployment is at 10.9% and Greene County is at 14.8%. Statewide, the unemployment rate jumped from 4.1% to 14.5%, representing the largest monthly increase on record.
“We anticipated a steep jump in unemployment resulting from the mandated shutdown of nonessential businesses since mid-March,” Columbia Economic Development Corporation President F. Michael Tucker said. “Many employers throughout the county faced with diminished revenue furloughed employees to enable them to access unemployment benefits including the $600 a week federal supplement. The true picture in terms of the adverse impact will come once businesses are allowed to ramp up operations under the phased reopening plan. We believe unemployment numbers will remain high during this phased-in ramp up period.”
Greene County officials also anticipated the rise in unemployment, Greene County Economic Development and Planning Director Karl Heck said.
“It wasn’t unexpected,” Heck said. “What made Greene a little different is fewer jobs were lost.”
April is a transitional time of year for unemployment in Greene County, Heck said, with ski slopes closing and summer resorts not yet open.
“We see some of [the unemployment] every year anyway,” he said. “In May, you won’t have that. Hopefully in May we will be at the bottom of this as we begin to reopen.”
The report also noted a large decline in private sector jobs, with a decrease of 1.8 million jobs. This is the largest monthly employment drop on record. Approximately one-third of these jobs were from the leisure and hospitality sector, with 577,700 jobs, mostly in accommodation and food services, with 471,400 jobs.
Industries with the largest increases in unemployment claims for the week ending May 23 included other services at 2,090%, educational services at 1,968%, health care and social assistance at 1,812%, retail trade at 1,359% and transportation and warehousing at 1,344%.
Some industries, such as leisure and hospitality, will be slower to bounce back, Heck said.
“At 25% or 50%, you won’t have everybody back working,” he said.
Greene County’s economy depends on tourism and many summer events have been canceled due to the virus.
“Not having some of those events is going to hurt,” Heck said. “As things begin to reopen, we definitely think people, particularly downstate, their first trip is going to be a relatively short road trip type of thing and they may be more inclined to come here.”
Heck said he believes air travel will take longer to recover.
The number of unemployed residents rose by 931,600, while the workforce dropped by 307,600 — both monthly records.
Unemployment claims for the week ending May 23 increased by 1.398% statewide and 1,099% in the Capital Region. Columbia County saw an increase of 3,450% and Greene County 788%.
On a federal level, the number of claims for the week ending May 23 decreased by 323,000 to a total of 2,123,000.
Those who do not qualify for traditional unemployment may apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a program established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. Those who qualify are also eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, an additional $600 per week available to those receiving benefits through traditional unemployment and also through the PUA program, and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which extends benefits for an additional 13 weeks for those receiving benefits if the initial 26 weeks have expired.
For the week ending May 9, 33 states reported 7,793,066 individuals claiming Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits and 22 states reported 222,300 individuals claiming Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits.
The federal unemployment pandemic benefits expire July 31, Tucker said.
“The real negative potential is when the federal unemployment supplement ends July 31 when we know how many workers will have been re-employed,” he said. “That’s when the true impact of corona will be felt in our county. It would be naive to suggest that everyone will be employed at jobs they held when this began. We need to explore retraining opportunities, enabling workers to find new positions. I don’t think we should sugarcoat the reality of the potential impact on workers depending on how fast businesses are able to ramp up. We were running at such a low unemployment that even with a strong comeback, there will still be a percentage of workers who will need to find new jobs.”
New York was among the states with the highest unemployments rates for the week ending May 9 at 19.9%, as well as having one of the largest increases in claims for that week, with 24,543 claims.
To combat the high volume, applicants follow an alphabetical system when filing for unemployment according to the first letter of their last name.
Letters A-F can file on Mondays, G-N file on Tuesdays, O-Z file on Wednesdays, and if you missed your day to file, you can file Thursday through Saturday.
The Telephone Claim Center has extended its hours to include 8 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and 7:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.