Weekly jobless claims surge in Iowa amid virus outbreak

A man walks past a nearly empty parking lot in front of the Iowa State Capitol building, Thursday, March 26, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. Iowa leaders last week suspended the current legislative session in response to COVID-19.

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Unemployment claims rose nearly nineteenfold in Iowa last week as the coronavirus pandemic that inflicted economic pain across the country left entire sectors of the job market in tatters, officials reported Thursday.

The Department of Labor reported that initial claims for jobless benefits in Iowa surged to 41,890 in the week that ended March 21. That was up from 2,229 the week prior, a historic spike that laid bare the virus' sudden economic impact and mirrored the bigger picture, where the national figure surged to a record 3.3 million.

Like many counterparts in other states, Gov. Kim Reynolds has ordered the temporary closure of schools, bars, dine-in restaurants, theaters, casinos and barbershops in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus.

Iowa Workforce Development reported that about one-third of last week's claims came from workers in the accommodation and food services industries. Other claimants came from the health care, education and retail sectors.

The Iowa Restaurant Association said Thursday that a survey of 670 bars and restaurants statewide found that more than four out of five had laid off workers. Even restaurants that have remained open for carryout service have still laid off up to 90% of their employees, the association said.

The owners who were surveyed projected that their March revenues would plummet by 84% compared with a year earlier, the association said.

“The picture is grim,” said association CEO Jessica Dunker. “We knew the precautionary step that shuttered large portions of our industry in an effort to fight the coronavirus would be detrimental, but our initial numbers indicate that for as many as 20% of our operators, there may be no coming back.”

For perspective on the number of unemployment claims filed, 41,000 is roughly the population of Cedar Falls, one of Iowa's 15 largest cities. The initial claims filed last week were more than those submitted during the rest of 2020, combined.

Iowa Workforce Development said it managed to process all of the claims despite the surge, and asked the public to be patient and seek answers online first before calling.

Wait times at the state's customer service phone center have been longer than normal due to an “unprecedented level of calls" that are being answered by hundreds of staffers, the agency said.

The governor acknowledged this week that increased traffic had also caused technical glitches on the website where people can file for unemployment.

“We will continue to provide as much assistance as possible to our fellow Iowans to ensure everyone who is eligible for benefits, receive those benefits in a timely basis,” the agency said in a statement.

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Check out more of the AP's coronavirus coverage at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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