Claims for unemployment insurance soared around the Ohio Valley region as nearly 400,000 people in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia sought help amid the economic freeze associated with the coronavirus pandemic.
The new numbers come from data released Thursday morning by the U.S. Department of Labor showing more than 6.6 million unemployment claims around the country.
Labor Dept. figures for the week ending March 28 show: Kentucky with 112,726 claims; Ohio with 272,129; and West Virginia with 14,166.
For some context, at the end of March 2019 there were approximately 217,000 unemployment claims nationwide. As astonishing as the the unemployment data are, economists warn that this represents only a small portion of the new claims that state unemployment offices are receiving.
Sean O'Leary, a policy analyst at the left-leaning West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, said that while federal data show 14,000 West Virginians filed an initial claim for unemployment last week, the state's governor and the commerce secretary warned that the number is likely closer to 90,000 for the month of March.
"Whatever the final number turns out to be, it is clear that the economic impact from the coronavirus is unlike anything we’ve ever seen," O'Leary said.
Similarly, in Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear acknowledged in his daily briefing Wednesday that the state is struggling to process the backlog of unemployment insurance claims.
“We haven’t been able to move fast enough. It’s unprecedented times. It’s an amount of claims that we’ve never seen before,” he said.
Kentucky processed about 70,000 unemployment insurance claims in just three days, partner station WFPL reported.