New unemployment claims in Massachusetts and nationally rushed upward again last week after surging to historic levels a week earlier as the coronavirus outbreak continues to wreak havoc.
In Massachusetts, a record 181,062 people filed initial claims during the week ending March 28, about a 22 percent increase over the prior week, according to advance non-seasonally adjusted data the Department of Labor published Thursday.
That new level immediately breaks the record set just one week earlier. During the week ending March 21, 148,452 Bay State residents submitted initial claims, roughly 20 times as many as the 7,449 who submitted such claims in the week ending March 14.
Claims at the national level accelerated at an even faster rate. The Department of Labor's latest figures reported 6.6 million seasonally adjusted initial claims during the week ending March 28, doubling the previous week's total.
At the time, the roughly 3.3 million initial claims filed during the week ending March 21 had been the record amount since the department first began tracking seasonally adjusted numbers decades ago.
Altogether, over the past two weeks, nearly 10 million Americans filed initial unemployment claims, reflecting widespread economic strain caused by stay-at-home orders, business shutdowns and precautions against the highly infectious COVID-19 pandemic.
"States continued to identify increases related to the services industries broadly, again led by accommodation and food services," the Department of Labor wrote in its Thursday summary. "However, state comments indicated a wider impact across industries. Many states continued to cite the health care and social assistance, and manufacturing industries, while an increasing number of states identified the retail and wholesale trade and construction industries."
During the week ending March 21, Massachusetts had the third-largest increase in initial claims among all states, trailing only Pennsylvania and Ohio with jumps of 362,012 and 189,263, respectively, according to the department.
In Massachusetts, food and accomodation industries accounted for the most initial claims filed last week at 25,993, though state labor officials noted that number had actually dropped from the 44,353 employees from that industry that submitted claims a week earlier.
The biggest week-over-week spike in the state was in retail, which saw an increase in claims of 15,444. By percent, the Massachusetts manufacturing industry saw the fastest jump in unemployment claims — 263 percent, or 7,674 more — from the week ending March 21 to the week ending March 28.
A Federal Reserve Bank of Boston report released Tuesday suggested that lawmakers ease the economic suffering for service workers, who disproportionately live in low-income households and are facing sweeping layoffs.
The organization's head said during a Wednesday webinar that the pandemic will likely drive the unemployment rate at least as high as it was following the 2008 global financial crisis.
To cope with the surge in demand, the Baker administration bulked up staffing in the Department of Unemployment Assistance with 500-plus new employees to manage cases and respond to inquiries.
Town hall forums in both English and Spanish have attracted more than 70,000 attendees, and the state's workforce web page resources have been viewed more than 10 million times since March 19.
The web system has been able to handle the heightened demand, officials say, thanks to a previous transition to a cloud setup.
"The Department of Unemployment Assistance is focused on supporting workers through these challenging times and continues to process new claims as quickly as possible," a spokesperson said in a statement. "The Department continues to prioritize efforts to process claims through the online system and by phone, and has deployed over 500 new employees to work remotely to help meet the increased volume. The Department has made over 34,000 individual callbacks and has held unemployment town halls in both English and Spanish, which have been attended by over 70,000 constituents."
Many more Americans will soon be able to access unemployment benefits. The sweeping $2 trillion federal coronavirus relief package expanded eligibility for workers who are self-employed or contracted and previously did not qualify, though states are still awaiting guidance on making the new aid available.
The $2 trillion federal economic stimulus/relief bill signed by President Trump Friday includes $260 billion in nationwide funding for expanded unemployment benefits.