jobs outlook

PHOENIX — The number of Arizonans out of work and seeking benefits took another big jump this past week.

New figures from the state Department of Economic Security show there were 88,592 initial claims in the week ending Friday. That compares with 29,333 the week before — and fewer than 3,000 at the end of February.

The numbers represent a tsunami of sorts at the agency: Those new claims are nearly triple the number of people who already were getting unemployment insurance at the end of last week.

And that 30,309 continuing claims is itself a 73 percent increase in the number of people who were collecting benefits the week before that.

All that is bound to eventually take a toll on the nearly $1.1 billion the state has in a special trust account financed by a tax that employers pay on the first $7,000 of each worker's salary.

Total benefits for last week were $3.24 million, compared with $3.04 million the week before. And none of that counts the latest new claims.

Arizona law says that those laid off through no fault of their own are entitled to one-half of what they were making. But Arizona sets a maximum payment of $240 a week; only Mississippi at $235, is lower.

Gov. Doug Ducey, asked about that last week, noted that the federal rescue package approved by Congress adds up to $600 a week more. Those benefits are expected to last up to four months.

To ensure state eligibility for the federal dollars, the Legislature approved a measure which expands eligibility to cover those who cannot work because of COVID-19, whether because they have it, they have been furloughed, or they are at home taking care of someone because of the virus. That overrides existing regulations which require people to actively be looking for work, making at least four contacts a week, to receive the weekly checks.

That new Arizona law also waives the existing requirement that makes newly unemployed people ineligible for the first week after being laid off.

Ducey issued an executive order of his own with similar provisions.

Howard Fischer is a veteran journalist who has reported on state government and legal affairs in Arizona since 1982, the last 25 for Capitol Media Services which he founded in 1991.

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