On Thursday, the Maine Department of Labor announced that 13,421 Mainers had filed new unemployment claims in the past week, a decline in weekly claims after three weeks of increases. However, even this week’s reduced numbers still smash the pre-pandemic weekly record set in July 1991.
With the latest figures, nearly 90,000 new unemployment claims have been filed in the last month. That’s 12.9 percent of Maine’s workforce that’s been put out of a job as a result of the coronavirus and the economically disruptive measures necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19.
While this week’s figures are a welcome decrease after three-straight weeks of record-breaking claims, we know we’re not out of the woods yet.
Self-employed workers, small-business owners, gig economy workers, and others who are newly eligible for unemployment benefits under the federal CARES Act have not yet been able to apply for benefits. This week also coincides with the distribution of $1.71 billion in federal funding to employers through the Payroll Protection program, which is designed to cover payroll and prevent layoffs and may have contributed to the decrease in filings. However, that program has now run out of money, and it’s unclear when, or even whether, funding will be replenished.
As we continue to monitor the data during this unprecedented pandemic and economic contraction, it is important not to overreact to any one measure of the economy or the public health crisis. Policymakers should feel the same sense of urgency today as they did yesterday to ensure that all people can follow public health guidance and still put food on the table.