The Bulletin

Unemployment claims in Virginia spiked 1,500% this week

By: - March 20, 2020 1:28 pm

Perly’s, a restaurant in Downtown Richmond, closed temporarily amid new restrictions on restaurants aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Unemployment claims in Virginia surged this week as efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 prompted mass business closures and cutbacks.

The state fielded more than 30,000 applications for cash assistance since Monday. That’s a 1,500 percent increase over last week, when the state received 1,973 claims, according to Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration. And, as VPM notes, it’s the highest number of weekly claims recorded in Virginia since at least 1987, the first year the Department of Labor began releasing the number of claims by state.

Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration has been encouraging workers who lost their jobs or had their hours cut to apply. They say they’ve expanded eligibility to include workers who are sick or quarantined, caring for someone who is sick or quarantined, or caring for a child whose school or day care was closed.

“If you think at all that you can get unemployment – we want everyone to apply,” Megan Healy, Northam’s chief workforce development adviser, said Friday.

“The rules change daily, maybe hourly, of who can get unemployment insurance so if you are denied we’re going to keep that data so if the rules change from the Department of Labor then we can go back through and issue folks checks.”

[New unemployment rules: Whose eligible, how to apply and when to expect a check]

Healy said the state has had to increase server capacity to speed up online applications and expanded its call center by shifting workers who typically handle calls for the Department of Motor Vehicles.

A sign on the door at Premiere Costumes on Cary Street in Richmond, Va., March 18, 2020. (Parker Michels-Boyce for the Virginia Mercury)

Service industry workers have been especially hard hit as restaurants closed or transitioned to take-out only, but industrial operations have slowed, too. In Danville, the city’s largest employer, Goodyear, announced it would close its plant through at least April 3, citing slowing demand.

In Richmond, Philip Morris suspended operations for two weeks after a second employee tested positive for COVID-19, though they say they will continue paying their employees through the stoppage.


Correction: The headline and text of this story have been updated to remove incorrect information provided by Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration about the number of unemployment claims filed in Virginia last year.

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.