COVID-19: Inside Colorado's Incredible Employment Crisis

COVID-19: Inside Colorado's Incredible Employment Crisis
Photo by Jusdevoyage on Unsplash
On April 16, as the COVID-19 crisis deepened, the Colorado Department of Labor confirmed that more than 100,000 initial claims for unemployment were submitted the previous week, even as a new study showed that the state's year-over-year increase in such filings was the nation's worst.

In the wake of these revelations, the department provided Westword with more facts, figures and graphics that reveal that dire predictions in March about how the virus could brutalize Colorado's economy offered only a hint at what was to come.

According to the CDL, the state processed and recorded 104,217 initial claims for the week ending April 11. Add that amount to the 127,393 initial claims filed over the previous three weeks, and the four-week total is in excess of 231,000.

This amount is larger than the number of initial claims filed in Colorado every year for nearly a decade. In 2011, as the state was emerging from what became known as the Great Recession, the initial-claims filings numbered about 208,000. Last year, they were less than half that: approximately 102,000.

Just as important to consider are continued unemployment claims, which are filed each week after eligibility has been established, the department explains. Those figures gives a sense of how many people have found a new job, or whether they're still looking.

The most recent data, for the week ending April 4, documents 166,357 continuing claims, more than double the previous state record: 78,978 during the week of January 30, 2010.

click to enlarge This graphic shows the enormous growth in the filing of initial claims for unemployment in Colorado. - COLORADO DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
This graphic shows the enormous growth in the filing of initial claims for unemployment in Colorado.
Colorado Department of Labor
Not all unemployment claims lead to payment, the department concedes — but the numbers for those that do are blasting through previous records, too. During the Great Recession, the most weeks paid over a two-week period hit 132,400. For the week of April 4, by comparison, 232,000 weeks were paid, with 160,000 more during the week of April 11.

That translates to $62 million in benefits paid for the week ending April 11, after the state already paid nearly $92 million over the previous two weeks. Department projections suggest that $50 million in weekly benefit payments are likely to become commonplace for the near future.

The hardest-hit counties in Colorado are located in metro Denver and along the Front Range: Adams, Arapahoe, Denver, El Paso and Jefferson counties accounted for 57 percent of county-level claims for the week of March 28. That's up from a 54 percent weekly average during 2019, but on an immensely larger scale.

Of course, other counties are feeling the pain, too. Summit County recorded a weekly average of thirteen county-level claims in 2019. For the week of March 28, the county racked up 1,231 — a 95-fold increase.

The industries with the most initial claims for the week ending April 11 were accommodation and food services, health care and social assistance, retail trade, so-called other services (salons among them), and arts, entertainment and recreation. Combined, these sectors accounted for 73 percent of industry-level claims.

Of retailers, the most claims came from auto dealers, clothing stores, sporting-goods stores and furniture stores. Meanwhile, mining recorded approximately 500 claims during March — about a third of the industry's total for 2019 as a whole.

And the end is not in sight.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts