The coronavirus pandemic has driven unemployment claims to all-time highs in the state and nation.
Last week, 1,703 people filed claims for unemployment assistance in South Dakota. That’s almost nine times more than the previous week, when there were 190 claims.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem told the media Thursday that the new numbers are the beginning of a trend.
“One thing I want to prepare you for is that we are seeing almost that number of unemployment claims per day this week,” Noem said. “So expect big, huge numbers next week and people signing up for unemployment, because, literally, our economic activity in the state has dropped to almost nothing.”
Nationally, claims soared from about 280,000 to 3.28 million, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The state and national numbers are both at their highest levels since the tracking of weekly numbers began.
The previous high for South Dakota (since the beginning of available state data in 1987) was 1,382 claims during the week ending Dec. 12, 2009, just after the Great Recession. The previous national high was 695,000 claims during a week in October 1982.
In South Dakota, unemployment benefits come from the Reemployment Assistance program. Employers pay a payroll tax to a trust fund, and the fund acts like insurance for workers. People can apply for weekly payments from the fund when they lose a job through no fault of their own.
This week, Congress struck a deal on a $2 trillion economic rescue package that includes additional benefits for unemployed workers. According to U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., that includes more benefits, longer benefits and expanded eligibility.
“It’s the most breathtaking change in unemployment insurance ever,” Johnson said.
The maximum benefit in South Dakota is about 48 percent of a person’s wage, up to a cap of $414 per week. The congressional rescue package reportedly includes up to an additional $600 weekly for unemployed workers, for four months. The package also reportedly expands eligibility to part-time employees and self-employed people.
So many people are inquiring about unemployment benefits in South Dakota that the state’s unemployment call center has been beefed up with 16 additional workers and 23 additional phone lines.