Our country is heading into uncharted territory as the unemployment rate continues to climb to record highs. By the end of April 2020, the U.S unemployment rate surpassed 20% with 4.4 million weekly jobless claims and 26.5 million total claims for benefits.
Compared to the 3.6% unemployment rate on record for January 2020 and the highest unemployment rate of 24.9% during the Great Depression, the economy is in undeniable turmoil thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.
Now that the CARES Act signed by President Trump on March 27, 2020 allows states to expand unemployment benefits to additional workers, unemployment offices have been flooded with more applications that they can process.
The historic CARES Act makes unemployment benefits available to more Americans than ever before. If you’re unable to work or are forced to accept reduced hours as a result of the coronavirus, you may qualify for unemployment. This even includes people directly impacted by the virus, such as those who have symptoms or are caring for a loved one with COVID-19.
You’re also covered by unemployment benefits in the following circumstances:
- Your workplace closed due to the coronavirus shutdown
- You had to quit your job due to coronavirus
- You can’t work because you are a caregiver to someone whose school or facility is closed due to coronavirus
- You were supposed to start a new job but it fell through due to coronavirus
Overall, the only Americans who can’t qualify for unemployment are those who can work from home with pay or are receiving paid leave while out of work. The total unemployment benefits available vary by state.
$600 Weekly Bonus
In addition to the normal unemployment benefits allowed by each state’s unique formula, all Americans receive a $600-per-week Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation through July 31, 2020.
According to the Department of Labor, this will “provide valuable support to American workers and their families during this challenging time.”
Outdated Technology and Overloaded Call Centers
While the benefits offered by unemployment compensation will save millions of Americans from financial catastrophe, many report a rough road to obtaining their benefits.
In New York, for example, an ancient unemployment system has been overwhelmed by more than 1 million applications since mid-March. The state’s Department of Labor website continually crashes or times out on users before their applications are completed. Meanwhile, phone support has such long hold times that it’s nearly impossible to get through to a live agent.
A new Facebook group, “HELP US- NYS Unemployment Issues” already has 33,000 members and about 1,000 new posts a day. Other states like North Carolina, California, and Texas are also struggling with more than 100 times their normal load of unemployment claims using old, inefficient IT systems.
According to California Labor Secretary Julie Snu, “I know this sounds crazy because we are in California, we are the tech center of the world, but our system is built on multiple antiquated systems, and because of that it is inflexible- it is very difficult to change.”
This is a common pattern around the country as most unemployed adults wait impatiently and desperately for the unemployment benefits they need to pay their bills. A recent Pew study found that 71% of Americans who filed for unemployment in March still hadn’t received benefits by late April.