Time-lapse: Two Months of Unemployment Claims

In the past eight weeks, a staggering number of Americans have filed for unemployment, but the per-capita effects by state have varied.

COVID-19 swept the nation beginning in mid-March, leading to widespread stay-at-home orders and a 3.3 million surge in initial unemployment filings during the week-ending March 21, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. At the time, that was the single biggest week for unemployment in the nation’s history. When 2020 started, unemployment claims in the U.S. were averaging around 218,000 filings per week.

In the weeks since March 21, the total number of claims have been steadily high by historic standards. In the last reported week, ending May 9, claims were the lowest they have been in eight weeks, but the total for the week still topped 2.3 million.

States have varied by volume of COVID-19 cases, by stay-at-home orders to fight the spread of the virus and by unemployment claims.

In the first week of record unemployment claims – the week-ending March 21 – the hardest hit states per capita were mostly in the Northeast. Rhode Island, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Minnesota each reported claims for roughly 40 to 60 workers per 1,000 in the workforce. Of these, the biggest volume of total unemployment claims was in Pennsylvania, where more than 377,000 workers filed that first week. Jobs in these states are concentrated in the biggest metro areas.

By the second week of big unemployment claims – the week-ending March 28 – Pennsylvania had moved into the top spot for total per capita filings, with Rhode Island and Nevada not far behind. All three states saw more than 100 workers out of 1,000 in the workforce file for unemployment in two weeks. Joining in were Michigan, Hawaii, Ohio, Washington and Kentucky, where per capital filings were between roughly 80 and 90 out of 1,000 in the labor force. California logged the nation’s most unemployment claims, with a total of 1.2 million people registering for benefits in two weeks. However, the workforce in California is also the largest in the country, at 19.2 million workers, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means that for every 1,000 workers in California, about 65 had applied for unemployment.

By the week-ending April 4, most states across the nation had recorded total filings of more than 70 workers per 1,000 in the workforce. Michigan moved into the #1 spot for total per capital claims, followed by Hawaii, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Nevada. Each of these states had seen more than 155 filings per 1,000 in the workforce in three weeks.

Hawaii had become the most impacted state in the nation by April 11, with 217 workers per 1,000 in the labor force filing for unemployment in four weeks. Michigan and Rhode Island rounded out the top three for hardest hit states. However, unemployment woes were widespread, with every state in the nation recording filings that topped 50 claims per 1,000 in the workforce.

By the week-ending April 18, the volume of Americans who had filed for unemployment in five weeks essentially wiped out all the job gains the economy had made during the prosperous decade-long cycle that started in early 2010. Hawaii remained the hardest hit per capita, with Kentucky and Michigan close behind. No state had fewer than 60 claims per 1,000 in the workforce.

By April 25, Hawaii and Kentucky were holding onto the title, followed by Georgia, Michigan, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Nevada. Every state in the nation was recording at least 70 unemployment claims per 1,000 workers in the labor force.

By the week-ending May 2, Kentucky surpassed Hawaii, moving into the nation’s #1 spot for per capita unemployment filings, while Hawaii and Georgia remained close behind. Each of these had reached more than 300 unemployment claims per 1,000 in the workforce. Some other heavily affected states – with around 260 to 270 filings per 1,000 workers – were Rhode Island, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Louisiana. California was still the spot where the most unemployment filings had occurred – rising to more than 3.9 million claims by the seventh week. Close behind were New York and Texas, with 1.8 million each. Per capita, however, Texas was still one of the least impacted in the nation, with about 130 fillings per 1,000 workers in the labor force.

In the week-ending May 9, roughly 2.3 million applied for unemployment. While staggering by historical standards, this was the most relief the nation had seen since the start of the downturn eight weeks ago. Kentucky, Georgia and Hawaii are still the worst off in the nation, with more than 300 workers per 1,000 in the labor force filing in the past eight weeks. At the next tier of struggle are Rhode Island, Nevada, Michigan, Louisiana, Washington, Pennsylvania and Alaska, with 250 to 280 per 1,000 workers now unemployed. On the other hand, South Dakota is the least affected, with 90 workers per 1,000 filing for claims.