As state and local authorities take steps to loosen the COVID-19 shutdown, the number of Alaskans seeking unemployment benefits soared for the fifth straight week.
New jobless claims filed with the state rose to 12,201 for the week that ended April 11, said Lennon Weller, an economist with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
The number adds to a stunning toll that’s grown rapidly since mid-March as businesses closed their doors and people remained at home to help contain the novel coronavirus.
In the last five weeks, about 60,000 individuals have filed for benefits in Alaska, Weller said. That number will likely continue growing for a few more weeks as new claims come in, he said.
The total number of people who have filed jobless claims over the last five weeks represents about 18% of the state’s workforce.
A record number of Americans, more than 22 million at the last count a week ago, have filed for the benefits.
The latest figures in Alaska are slightly higher than the previous weekly count. But they remain below the record of 14,590 claims set during the fourth week in March.
“While initial claims are still significantly elevated, it does appear that the largest wave of new filings is behind us,” Weller said.
Still, the latest figures are 12 times higher than normal levels for this time of year, he said.
Alaska authorities on Monday expanded the unemployment insurance program to include an estimated 35,000 self-employed people and independent contractors. The latest weekly count does not include that additional population, Weller said.
The state’s trust fund that supports the weekly jobless benefits continues to be “fully solvent," Weller said.
The latest balance was about $475 million as of Monday.
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