PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Continuing the record-breaking pattern they’ve seen over the last three weeks, both Oregon and Washington saw historic unemployment numbers for the week of March 29.
The Oregon Employment Department received 100,700 initial claims during the week of March 29, while Washington’s Employment Security Department saw 170,063 initial claims filed.
Oregon detailed data at the bottom of this article
As Oregonians and Washingtonians lose their jobs at an alarming rate due to COVID-19, the claims for benefits have skyrocketed and show no signs of slowing down. Over the last three weeks, the OED received 269,900 initial claims for unemployment benefits while the ESD saw a total of 481,000 initial claims.
A senior economic analyst with the Oregon Employment Department told KOIN 6 News at least 134,200 initial claims were processed over the last 3 weeks.
These numbers have shattered previous unemployment records. During the Great Recession, net job losses in Oregon totaled 147,800. The department has also processed more claims in this first quarter of 2020 than in the entirety of 2019. Over in Washington, the number of initial claims filed was seven times more than the peak week during the 2008/2009 recession.
‘Dynamic changing so fast’
Gail Kiles Krumenauer with the OED told KOIN 6 News individual unemployment situations vary and said the length of time people are waiting isn’t unusual, even “in non-pandemic times.”
“The dynamic that’s happening is changing so fast on both sides of the math you need to do to figure out what the average number of days is,” she said. “In one month’s time we’ve more than quadrupled the staff we’ve dedicated to taking claims.”
The department is having the most difficulty with the phones even though they’ve increased staff.
“People are re-dialing or robo-diabling our agency in such a way that it jams up our phone system and fewer calls can actually get through to someone for help,” Krumenauer said.
Even with its efforts to expedite the process, OED says the average phone wait time is 106 minutes.
She’s aware of the issue people have when they file an initial claim, then come back and find their claim is “invalid.”
“We have made fixes for that,” she said. “We continue to make fixes for that.”
The agency also re-designed its COVID-19 page, expanding its resource guides for those filing claims. OED also expanded its phone hours to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays, but say that it is still critically important that anyone who can file online does so.
‘There’s so much uncertainty’
Jill Bingham’s 28-year-old son just began “his dream job” working at a craft brewery in Milwaukie when he was laid off on Friday, March 20. He began applying for unemployment the following Monday or Tuesday.
When he initially filed, “he received some sort of an email confirmation that they had received his claim and at that point he was waiting to hear something else — and didn’t,” Bingham told KOIN 6 News.
“He went on to do his weekly claim where yu report, and when he did that it said there’s no valid claim found in their system. So that was a little disconcerting.”
Her son has since called “hundreds and hundreds” of times and can’t get through. The ODE website, she said, keeps telling him there’s no valid claim.
He’s out of money, has been watching the mail and requesting more information for “going on 3 weeks,” she said.
“I think it’s hard when there’s so much uncertainty. You don’t know what’s next, you’re waiting on that money and you don’t know when to expect it,” she said. “It’s just frustrating and a lot of uncertainty.”
Bingham said she understands that the unemployment system is overwhelmed with people like her son who lost their job completely unexpectedly.
“But you’re just grasping for some reassurance that, ‘Yes, we have your claim, yes, you’ve done what you needed and yes, your money’s coming,’ and it’s just not there.”
She’s encouraged him to take a walk or ride his bike and try to stay positive.
“I mean, obviously, he’s my adult child,” she said and told him “we’re not going to let you wind up on the streets or go hungry. But, you know, not everyone has that kind of support system, either.”