Unemployment claims spike across Shelby County

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

On Saturday, March 14, Shelby County’s unemployment insurance initial claims sat at 38 for the month. Two weeks later, on Saturday, March 28, it had risen to 2,439 claims. That’s the harsh reality of what the first two weeks of COVID-19 did to the county’s workforce.

Almost as staggering, the state’s number of claims rose from 1,819 on March 14 to 80,984 on March 28. The Alabama Department of Labor said 74,844 of those claims are COVID-19 related.

This all comes after the county and state had been setting records for low unemployment rates over the last year.

In both January and February, the county and state continued to set record low unemployment rates.

In January, the county’s unemployment rate when from 3.1 percent in 2019 to 2.4 percent this year, while February’s numbers dropped even more to 2.1 percent from its position of 2.8 percent the previous year.

With a civilian labor force of 115,622 in January and 114,878 in February, that meant 2,740 people were unemployed in the county in January and 2,357 unemployed in February.

That showed the economy was in a good spot and the unemployment rate was continuing to decline.

While we’ll have to wait until the end of April to see the official rates for March, with more than 2,000 claims filed in a two-week span, the rate will likely take a drastic turn.

If we take February’s numbers and all 2,439 claims as of March 28 are verified, the unemployment rate would spike to 4.17 percent. That would be the highest since it was at 4.2 percent in February of 2017. Ever since then, the rate had been at 3.4 percent or lower and mostly less than 3 percent.

“We have seen an overwhelming number of employees filing claims for unemployment compensation benefits,” said Alabama Department of Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington. “We understand that we are entering a difficult time for workers and employers. We want to help those who may be temporarily financially impacted by helping them to replace some of their lost income while being unable to work. We are working with both federal and state government to ensure that we are doing all that we can to help ease the burden during a potentially trying time.”

The majority of claims in Alabama filed in the first two weeks of the novel coronavirus outbreak were from employees in the Accommodation and Food Services industry (14,752), followed by INA (unclassified) (17,860), Health Care and Social Assistance (6,254), Remediation Services (5,486), Retail Trade (4,996), and Manufacturing (11,032).

Dating back to September of 2019, the state has held an unemployment rate of 2.7 percent. The most recent numbers in February saw 59,719 of a 2,243,967 civilian labor workforce unemployed.

Using February’s numbers, if the 80,984 from March 28 are verified, that would equal out to a 6.27 percent unemployment rate. That would be the highest unemployment rate since it was at 6.4 percent in October of 2014.

Again, that is just an estimate, but shows how drastic the turn could be once the March numbers officially come in.

Also, keep in mind, that is just two weeks of data from COVID-19. It doesn’t shed light on what is still to come in April, as the unemployment rate could continue to climb into the summer until the county, state and country can get back to normalcy.

“Many changes are happening quickly with regards to Alabama’s workforce, and it’s important to ensure that we are offering as many available options to those who find themselves in different employment situations,” said Governor Kay Ivey.  “As always, we stand ready to assist Alabama’s workers in any way we possibly can.”

Throughout the state and Shelby County there are plenty of resources available for those who have had to file unemployment, and several organizations are offering a helping hand.

Locally, The Shelby County Chamber and 58 Inc., as well as local municipalities are offering resources and hot lines to help both businesses and those who have become unemployed.

The goal is to keep the economy from taking as drastic of a downturn as the unemployment rate.

With the changes, Pelham-based 58 Inc., shared several resources, including what Jefferson State and Central Alabama community colleges can offer.

Jeff State is offering opportunities for individuals that have been laid off as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic to upgrade skills.

The school is currently accommodating students with online learning through the remainder of the spring semester, but can help those looking to acquire a high school diploma, GED, National Career Readiness Certificate through ACT or upgrade skills in a certain field.

They are offering different courses remotely and at new cost, while also sharing different websites that can help fine-tune your skills. For more information, you can visit Jeffersonstate.emsicc.com/?radius=&region=Jefferson%20State or Jeffersonstate.edu/rtw/.

Central Alabama Community College is providing distance learning instruction using a variety of online learning platforms. With new online enrollment and orientation, students can work on obtaining their GED, gain essential employ-ability skills, explore English Second Language classes and more.

For more information, visit Cacc.edu/workforce-education/.

You can also set out for a new career, and 58 Inc. shared sites that could help, which include the following: Mynextmove.org, Careeronestop.org/Videos/CareerVideos/career-videos.aspx, Candidcareer.com/channels.php?shared=Alabama&UID=2155 and Bls.gov/ooh/.

“Unfortunately, many in our community are now unemployed due to the COVID-19 crisis and subsequent economic challenges,” read a release from 58 Inc. “While this situation could be seen as a professional set-back, it can also be viewed as an opportunity to discover a new career. We encourage all those who are laid off to use the time you have wisely and explore careers that could offer higher pay and growth opportunities.”

In addition to those resources, The Shelby County Chamber and 58 Inc. have collaborated to form a Business Toolkit that provides businesses a one-stop location for more resources and information.

They also encouraged residents of Shelby County to do the following:

  • Shop online with Shelby County businesses.
  • Order food to go.
  • Use available curbside service for our groceries and other purchases.
  • Buy gift cards or certificates to use today or for a later date. Gift cards and certificates produce immediate cash flow, which is the lifeblood of local businesses.
  • When appropriate, tip as generously as possible.
  • When posting on social media, use the hashtag #ShopShelbyCounty so that others can see what our Shelby County business community has to offer during this unique time.

“The toolkit has been created to provide Shelby County businesses with a one-stop location for resources and information they can use during the current business environment,” read an announcement about the toolkit. “The Chamber’s staff will be working with several agencies and 58 INC. to update the Business Toolkit to add additional resources which Shelby County businesses can access over the next several weeks. As additional resources are added, the Chamber and 58 INC. will keep the business community updated.”

The hope is that these resources will help keep businesses afloat and Shelby County’s economy in a positive position throughout the battle against COVID-19.

But with the unemployment rate rising, that has a trickle effect on what people can afford, which impacts businesses still trying to operate.

Workers can also file for unemployment benefits online at Labor.alabama.gov or by calling 1-866-234-5382.  Online filing is encouraged.