148,000 Massachusetts residents applied for unemployment last week, an increase of nearly 19 times the previous week’s 7,449 unemployment claims.
Throughout the country, the seasonally adjusted number of initial unemployment claims for the week was nearly 3.3 million – an increase of 3 million from the week before – and a new record.
“This marks the highest level of seasonally adjusted initial receivables in the history of seasonally adjusted series,” the Labor Ministry said in a press release Thursday.
The previous maximum was 695,000 in October 1982.
Seasonally adjusted initial claims in the last year, according to the Ministry of Labor.
In Massachusetts, 147,995 applied for unemployment during the week ending March 21, compared to 7,499 weeks before. This is an increase of 140 536, or almost 1 900%. The state ranks 12th in terms of the largest change in the percentage of original receivables.
MIT economist Tom Kochan said the numbers were bad, but could be much worse. The big question at this point is how long the coronavirus epidemic will last, he said.
“If you track those numbers, they are obviously the worst in the countries with the biggest COVID-19 problem,” he said. “But as it spreads across the country, those numbers will escalate over the next two to three weeks for sure. And no one really knows how much more than that.”
Kochan said the stimulus bill, expected before the US House on Friday, will be crucial – not just for workers and businesses suffering from this crisis, but for the entire economy.
“The incentive helps two accounts: first, it helps keep some businesses operating at some minimum level … and second, it keeps some money in the pockets of consumers and workers and keeps them employed or receiving benefits,” Kochan said. “And so more financial resources will be accumulated so that it can be spent when the business returns.”
Equally critical is the well-being of workers who currently do not qualify for unemployment benefits, Kochan said, including undocumented workers who he believes will be needed to help economic recovery.
“We want to make sure that we take care of everyone in the economy, whether they are an independent contractor, a contractor working for a temporary assistance agency, a regular employee, an immigrant or a citizen,” he said. “This is the only way we can restore the economy for everyone.”
Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday demanded a major declaration of emergency from the federal government. If approved, Baker said the new money could go to help workers who are not covered by unemployment insurance and “mitigate the impact of this disaster on this particular group of workers.
Among the many employers forced to lay off staff is Kara Tondorf, who owns four restaurants in Scituate and Braintree. Before the epidemic, it employed about 65 workers and laid off about 90% of them.
“It’s awful,” Tondorf said, “because I’m their leader.”
“While we are still open for business, we don’t do nearly the volume that we usually do, so all the buses, food handlers, flight attendants, bartenders, I have no room for these services.”
Tondorf said she created a fund using a $ 5 curb fee at one of her restaurants – Rivershed in Scituate, which remains open for pickup – and welcomes customers generously, distributing the money to workers who need it most him. But this is not an easy decision.
“You have kids who are high school or college kids who live under the roof of their parents,” Tondorf said, “and then you have single moms who rely on that income to feed their children.”
Charlie Merrow runs a textile company in Fall River called Merrow Manufacturing. He said he had “scoured” 200 employees and retained what he considered core staff. Merrow also holds its development team on board to focus on the manufacture of surgical masks and hospital gowns.
He said he was concerned about how quickly businesses would bounce back – and be able to make wages – once the hearth was gone. “Most businesses depend on accounts receivable to provide working day-to-day working capital, and in this case, many businesses will exhaust their start-up receivables,” Merrow wrote in an email.
He said this would lead to “a much slower” restart “than expected, and workers’ unemployment for far longer than expected.”