Business/Economy

New jobless claims in Alaska soar to nearly 50,000 in a month

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The number of displaced workers seeking jobless benefits in Alaska soared to almost 50,000 over four weeks as the coronavirus pandemic delivered a severe blow to the state’s economy, a state official reported.

The state received 12,007 initial jobless claims for the week that ended April 4, adding to a surge of claims driven by mandates intended to slow the spread of the virus in mid-March that forced businesses to shut their doors and trim staff.

The state has received 48,218 new jobless claims in four weeks, said Lennon Weller, an economist with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. That’s about 15% of the Alaska workforce this time of year.

The most recent figure is lower than the unprecedented claims seen in the previous two weeks, Weller said — 17.7% less than the record 14,590 new claims set in the last reporting period.

[Alaska begins paying $600-per-week federal boost in unemployment benefits]

“The numbers are still quite elevated,” Weller said.

But he said “it’s likely the largest wave in initial claims on a week-to-week basis is behind us."

State unemployment insurance officials have said they’re racing to handle the flood of applications.

[Alaskans report long waits, confusing messages and few answers as state’s unemployment system is swamped by applicants]

Weller said the claims likely underrepresent the number of unemployed people in Alaska, since they don’t count self-employed Alaskans, independent contractors or gig workers.

Those people will be able to file jobless claims for the first time in Alaska under a program that begins April 20.

The jobless benefits program was expanded under federal legislation passed last month to combat the economic effects of the virus. The aid includes an additional $600 weekly payment, sharply boosting the state’s previous normal maximum unemployment payment of $370.

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