LINCOLN — New jobless claims filed last week pushed the pandemic-driven total past 100,000 in Nebraska as the state unemployment system struggled to cope.
A federal report released Thursday showed that 8,197 Nebraska workers filed first-time unemployment claims last week. That was down from the week before but is more than 10 times the number seen before the coronavirus started wreaking havoc on the nation’s economy.
State Labor Commissioner John Albin acknowledged that the state has not kept pace with the deluge. He said that Nebraskans filed three years’ worth of claims in two months and that only two years’ worth have been paid so far. The peak came during the first week of April, when almost 27,000 Nebraskans filed initial claims.
“The numbers are just unparalleled,” he said.
To help the system catch up, Gov. Pete Ricketts issued an executive order Thursday that will waive the usual requirement to contact all of a person’s previous employers for the past five calendar quarters. Instead, claims will be approved based on information from the most recent employer.
Albin said the change made a dramatic difference in other states that have made similar moves.
He estimated that about 40% of people filing claims had multiple employers during the last five quarters. Contacting those former employers, especially ones in the restaurant industry and others affected by social distancing restrictions, has been difficult.
“We think it is going to be a substantial improvement in the process,” Albin said.
The executive order also extended previous unemployment waivers back to March 15, when the state declared an emergency over the pandemic.
Under those waivers, which previously took effect on March 22, workers do not have to take an unpaid week before benefits can begin, and they are not required to search for work.
Employers are not being charged for benefits paid to their former employees if the layoff was because of the coronavirus.
Some unemployed people may be able to go back to work soon. The governor has announced plans to ease social distancing restrictions on Monday in 59 Nebraska counties, including the Omaha metro area, and on May 11 in 10 other counties.
But it will take a couple of weeks to see how those changes affect employment in the state.
The governor’s plans allow for reopening of restaurant dining areas, as well as barber shops, beauty salons and similar close-contact businesses. He also cleared the way for elective surgeries to resume statewide, which could put health care providers back to work.
Nationally, first-time filings hit 3.84 million last week, which is down from a previous peak, according to Labor Department figures released Thursday.
New jobless claims for last week were the lowest since March 21 but bring the six-week total to 30.3 million as part of the worst employment drop in U.S. history. First-time claims hit a record 6.87 million for the week of March 28 and have declined each week since then.
In Iowa, the number of initial claims last week was 28,827, with the number of continuing weekly unemployment claims at 170,990.