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Nearly 19% of Mississippi’s labor force has filed for unemployment benefits

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(Image from Mississippi Department of Employment Security)

Mississippi’s unemployment picture remains bleak heading into the state’s 10th week of dealing with the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Since March 11, the day the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the state, nearly a quarter million people have filed for unemployment benefits, and the majority of those folks have filed for additional benefits after their initial claim.

In March, Mississippi’s civilian labor force was 1.3 million people. The total of new claims filed represents nearly 19% of the state’s working people.

Week ending New claims
3/14/2020 1,147
3/21/2020 5,519
3/28/2020 32,015
4/4/2020 45,852
4/11/2020 45,748
4/18/2020 36,913
4/25/2020 29,906
5/2/2020 25,745
5/9/2020 22,810
Total 245,655

As in other states, Mississippi’s unemployment trust fund has taken a big hit paying out benefits. Revenue flowing into the fund from employers has also dropped as many businesses were shuttered during the COVID-19 crisis and not paying unemployment insurance.

At the beginning of 2020, the fund contained more than $710 million, according to the U.S. Treasury. In April, the state paid out over $73 million in claims and took in $3 million in revenues. At the end of April, the fund balance stood at $638 million.

Gov. Tate Reeves asked the state Legislature to restore the fund with federal relief funds during his daily COVID-19 news conference Thursday.

“The unemployment trust fund is actually filled by taxes from small businesses, so if we don’t use CARES Act funds to refill it, then the taxes on small businesses are going to go up to refill it, and this is the absolute worst time for our small businesses to get their taxes increased,” Reeves said.

Nationwide, nearly 3 million Americans filed new unemployment benefits claims in the week ending May 9, bringing the total of unemployed people in the U.S. to more than 36 million.

A big portion of those job losses were in industries such as hospitality and retail, typically low-wage positions.

Thursday, the Federal Reserve released a report detailing who has been hit hardest by the pandemic downturn. Four out of 10 of those who lost jobs were low-wage workers, the report says.

“While we are all affected, the burden has fallen most heavily on those least able to bear it,” said Fed Chairman Jerome Powell in a Wednesday webcast.

“We are seeing a severe decline in economic activity and in employment, and already the job gains of the past decade have been erased,” Powell added.

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