1 in 5 Summit County workers have applied for unemployment assistance | SummitDaily.com

1 in 5 Summit County workers have applied for unemployment assistance

The Workforce Center in Frisco as seen on Monday, May 11. So far 21% of Summit County’s workforce has filed for either unemployment insurance or a form of federal assistance due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Jason Connolly / jconnolly@summitdaily.com

(Editor’s note: The headline for the previous version of the story erroneously stated “1 in 5 Summit County residents” applied for aid. This has been clarified to refer to Summit County workers.)

FRISCO — Spring is known as a season for new beginnings. But in the United States and across the planet, spring has come with ill tidings and millions of lost jobs as the COVID-19 pandemic continues its relentless battering of the global economy.

The United States unemployment rate hit 14.7%, the highest the nation has seen since the Great Depression, after the most dramatic loss of jobs ever known.

The latest unemployment figures released by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment are grim. For the week ending May 2, there were 28,164 new regular unemployment insurance claims and 13,149 claims under the new federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance government program meant for gig workers and contractors who could not file claims through the regular program.

The industry with the highest number of claims continues to be the accommodation and food service industry, with 5,283 claims in a single week. Food service is followed by the retail, health care, administrative support, waste management and arts/entertainment/recreation industries.

Jessica Valand, director of workforce development for Northwest Colorado, said that figures showing the unemployment rate for counties generally lag several weeks behind the national number. However, the state has a fairly recent tally of unemployment insurance claims filed in Summit County.

As of April 25, Valand said Summit had 4,730 new unemployment claims since the pandemic hit the county. She said an additional 426 people filed for benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for gig workers and independent contractors. That totals 5,156 people who lost their jobs and sought aid, and does not include the unemployed who did not seek benefits or people who left the county after losing their jobs.

“When you add those two numbers together as a share of the workforce, 21% of Summit County’s labor workforce has filed for unemployment insurance of pandemic assistance,” Valand said. “That’s compared to the 12% across the state during the same time frame.”

Valand said the High Country has been hardest hit by the shutdown, and Summit County in particular, as 70% of the county’s economy relies on tourism. That compares to 59% in Eagle County and 54% in Routt County.

“Pretty much anywhere that has a tourism-based economy will have outsize impacts on their jobs compared to the rest of the state,” Valand said.

And as bad as it is now, the end of job losses is nowhere in sight. May and June is mud season in Summit, a period that typically comes with a dip in visitors and the loss of seasonal jobs. Now, compounded with the pandemic, Summit County businesses are expected to shed many jobs in June.

“The numbers will keep increasing, just not as quickly as in March,” Valand said.

Even with unemployment assistance, many families are still struggling to make ends meet. Brianne Snow, executive director of the Family & Intercultural Resource Center, said that while requests have slowed, there is still a steady stream of Summit County residents contacting her office for assistance.

“As of today, we have helped 862 households with rent assistance,” Snow said. “We are getting about 25 requests a day and also getting to the end of the money available. Eventually, we might get to a place where we can’t help everybody who needs it.”

The state has paid out a total of $337 million in regular unemployment insurance since Colorado underwent lockdown measures, a staggering average of $67 million per week from late March through early May. To compare, before COVID-19 became a global menace, the average amount paid in uninsurance claims was $8.7 million per week.

The Department of Labor provided a comparison with unemployment during the 2008 recession to show how radically different the pandemic situation is. At the lowest point of the recession, $19 million was paid out weekly, and a total of $102 million was paid out for the entire year of 2009.

Another $407.3 million was paid out to Colorado’s unemployed workers through the Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, which provides $600 a week in additional payments to all unemployed claimants, both regular unemployed and gig workers. 

The Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program is different from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which supports gig workers and contractors. That program has paid out $65 million in Colorado through early May.

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