Unemployment

Construction on the large-scale Hidden Hollow complex of apartments and townhomes in 2018. As unemployment skyrockets nationwide, state and federal officials are mulling changes to unemployment insurance and other financial assistance programs.

Monthly unemployment numbers skyrocketed Thursday, as the federal and state government mull new assistance programs and changes to unemployment insurance.

But Thursday’s jobs report demonstrates something many in Teton County already know: People are losing their jobs, fast, as COVID-19 spreads nationwide.

Over 3 million people across the country filed for unemployment in the week ending March 21, the highest level of jobless claims since the U.S. Department of Labor started keeping track in the 1960s. In the previous week, jobless claims topped out at less than 300,000.

That means the most recent numbers increased more than 1,000% from the previous week.

Locally, that trend has been borne out as restaurants and other businesses affected by closure orders have cut staff, leaving bartenders, servers, substitute teachers and others without work.

Colleen Dubbe, the manager of the Jackson Workforce Center, which helps people apply for unemployment, said she’d never seen so many people calling for help in her 25 years there.

“When the downturn in the economy occurred in 2008, 2009, we saw a large influx of people then, but not like this,” she said. “Even that was more gradual. This is all happening at once.”

The U.S. Senate passed a whopping $2 trillion coronavirus relief package Wednesday. If passed by the House and signed by President Trump as written — the president has signaled his support — the bill could deliver a $1,200 payment to Americans who make less than $75,000 and raise the maximum weekly unemployment benefit by $600 for a wide swath of workers.

At a Wednesday press conference, Robin Cooley, the director of the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, said adjustments to unemployment could be coming from the state as well.

Laid-off employees who spoke with the Jackson Hole News&Guide earlier this week said they were concerned about maintaining unemployment insurance. Most who file claims are required to contact two employers a week looking for work to keep the benefit. The difficulty, they said, is doing so when most businesses are cutting staff, rather than hiring.

“You have to prove every week that you went to two different places,” said Kelsey Wentz, a bartender at the Moose and Teton Pines. “Right now, how are you going to do that?”

Without going into specifics, Cooley signaled Wednesday that changes to relax those requirements could be coming, noting that some employers are continuing to hire.

The state unemployment insurance commission, she said, is “pushing through emergency rules that will relax some of the eligibility requirements … around work search requirements.”

“Hopefully we’re able to push those emergency rules through here fairly quickly,” she said.

The Jackson Hole Daily will continue to monitor changes to unemployment insurance, and provide an update when more information is available. In the meantime, we have compiled a list of resources available to those who have lost their jobs.

You can find that online at JHNewsAndGuide.com.

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Contact Billy Arnold at 732-7063 or barnold@jhnewsandguide.com.

Teton County Reporter

Previously the Scene editor, Billy Arnold made the switch to the county beat where he's interested in exploring Teton County as a model for the rest of the West. When he can, he still writes about art, music and whatever else suits his fancy.

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