In a “what the heck” moment, the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development on Thursday said unemployment filings for two-thirds of counties went down for the second week of March.
The filings were for March 8-14, just before the Chinese coronavirus took a toll.
The department said in an announcement:
Newly released unemployment data shows the jobless rate dropped in two-thirds of Tennessee’s 95 counties during March 2020. The unemployment data for the month does not take into account the impact of the COVID-19 health emergency.
The federal government conducted its survey to measure the number of Tennesseans who were out of work during the second week of the month, between March 8 and 14.
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development did not begin to see the unprecedented increase in unemployment claims until the third and fourth weeks of March.
Unemployment rates decreased in 61 counties during March, increased in 18 counties, and remained the same in 16 counties.
Sixty-eight counties had unemployment rates lower than 5% for the month, while 27 counties had rates that were 5% or higher.
Williamson County had the state’s lowest unemployment rate in March. At 2.6%, the new rate mirrored February’s rate.
Last week, The Tennessee Star reported that nearly 75,000 Tennesseans were on record as filing unemployment claims as of April 11, according to new numbers the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development put out on their website.
During Gov. Bill Lee’s daily COVID-19 press release Thursday, Jeff McCord, the labor commissioner, spoke about the problems the unemployed are having in filing their claims and receiving their benefits, especially for the self-employed. The video is available on the governor’s Facebook page.
McCord has been promising to scale the unemployment computer system and make other improvements to help process record claims, a 2,000 percent increase. On Thursday, he said that during the past week, the state paid 225,000 people benefits including a $600 federal benefit, plus back pay. The computer system for processing the federal pandemic unemployment assistance program has been built and will start up Friday, with self-employed workers receiving benefits next week.
The department hired over 300 workers for customer service and has a couple of contract call centers.
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Photo “People Filling Out Paperwork” by Micah Sittig. CC BY 2.0.