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Thu Apr 30, 2020, 06:42 PM Apr 2020

NYT: Stymied in Seeking Benefits, Millions of Unemployed Go Uncounted

As state agencies grapple with new guidelines and sheer volume, many workers are frustrated in filing claims and omitted from jobless tallies.


With a flood of unemployment claims continuing to overwhelm many state agencies, economists say the job losses may be far worse than government tallies indicate. The Labor Department said Thursday that 3.8 million workers filed for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the six-week total to 30 million. But researchers say that as the economy staggers under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic, millions of others have lost jobs but have yet to see benefits.

A study by the Economic Policy Institute found that roughly 50 percent more people than counted as filing claims in a recent four-week period may have qualified for benefits — with the difference representing those who were stymied in applying or didn’t even try because the process was too formidable. “The problem is even bigger than the data suggest,” said Elise Gould, a senior economist with the institute, a left-leaning research group. “We’re undercounting the economic pain.”

Alexander Bick of Arizona State University and Adam Blandin of Virginia Commonwealth University found that 42 percent of those working in February had lost their jobs or suffered a reduction in earnings. By April 18, they found, up to eight million workers were unemployed but not reflected in the weekly claims data. The difficulties at the state level largely flow from the sheer volume of claims, which few agencies were prepared to handle. Many were burdened by aging computer systems that were hard to reconfigure for new federal guidelines.

“We’ve known that the state unemployment insurance systems were not up to the task, yet those investments were not made,” Ms. Gould said. “The result is that the state systems are buckling under the weight of these claims.” The crush of claims is a major reason — but not the only one — that states are backlogged. Frustrated applicants who refile their applications, some as many as 20 times, slow the system as processors weed out duplicates. Some applications are missing information. New York analyzed a million claims and found many had been delayed because of a missing employer identification number. In such cases, each applicant has to be called back. Callers looking for updates also flood the system, increasing the wait for those who need to correct a mistake.

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