Unemployment claims take sharp rise

Published 9:36 pm Wednesday, April 1, 2020

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Jobless claims filed by Suffolk residents took a sharp rise in the last week as the effects of the coronavirus pandemic began affecting city businesses.

Unemployment claims by city residents went up from 26 as of March 14 to 348 for the week ending March 21, according to the Virginia Employment Commission. Areas across Hampton Roads showed similar sharp increases.

More than 3,300 people filed unemployment claims in Virginia Beach for the week ending March 21, second-most in Virginia to Fairfax County. Across the Hampton Roads region, there were 10,945 people who filed initial claims for unemployment for the week ending March 21, up from 464 the previous week.

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According to Old Dominion University’s Dragas Center for Economic Analysis and Policy, just two of the state’s 133 localities — Galax City and Grayson County in southwest Virginia — experienced declines in initial unemployment claims from the previous week.

“The widespread rise in initial unemployment claims across the commonwealth reflects the rapid contraction of economic activity across many sectors of the economy,” the Dragas Center stated in a news release. “The initial wave of unemployment claims is strongly associated with the contraction of the leisure and hospitality and food service sectors.”

It said with the recent stay-at-home order through June 10 announced by Gov. Ralph Northam, Virginia is likely to see further declines in manufacturing, retail and other sectors.

The Dragas Center said the historic rise in claims is a warning sign of continued unemployment increases through May, and projects rates to approach and possibly exceed 10 percent.

“While the defense industry in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia does provide a buffer from some layoffs, the declines in hospitality, leisure and retail employment will be unprecedented in the coming weeks,” the Dragas Center noted.

It said expanded unemployment benefits could provide relief to some who are laid off, but a longer period of income support for workers and small businesses may be needed to avoid a long-term recession.

Suffolk City Manager Patrick Roberts said that while city restaurants have been among the most visible cases of businesses and people impacted by restrictions, other areas have been hurt also.

“It’s also impacting some medical and dental offices, people that rely on close physical contact, like barbers,” Roberts said, “With their closure more recently, we’re seeing those folks being impacted.”

He pointed to efforts by the city’s Economic Development office as one way the city is trying to mitigate the impact on jobs in the city.

Suffolk’s economic development webpage, yessuffolk.com, has put together a list of businesses from the city and surrounding region that are actively recruiting. It also lists COVID-19 business resources, and it has put together a listing of city restaurants that are offering carryout or delivery services.

The website also has information on assistance for small businesses and for those who have been laid off.

Roberts said the federal stimulus could help some businesses reopen quickly “when the coast is clear.”