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Missouri unemployment claims skyrocket during coronavirus pandemic

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Unemployment claims have skyrocketed in Missouri in the past couple of weeks as businesses continue to furlough and lay-off employees in the wake of COVID-19

According to the Missouri Department of Labor, the last full week of March saw 104,230 initial unemployment claims in Missouri. This more than doubled the 42,207 claims that were filed the week before. In previous weeks of 2020, claims typically numbed between 2,000 to 7,000, with 3,975 claims filed the week before the massive increase began. 

In contrast to this recent data, the Department of Labor website lists 12,856 total filings in March of 2019. 

“These are crazy town numbers,” Rep. Travis Fitzwater said of the most recent information on social media.

As stay at home and quarantine orders continue to roll out all across the state, businesses in the service and retail industries have been forced to shut down, laying off or furloughing employees. 

The Missouri Department of Labor said it’s increasing its staffing and online capacities to help deal with the increase in claims. It has hired temporary workers, and claims center staff are working overtime.

“The best way for workers to file a claim is online at Our staff is taking an unprecedented number of phone calls, but many calls are related to questions and new law changes and not the filing of a claim. This consumes precious staff time and blocks assistance to those who need to file a claim, but do not have access to the internet,” Division of Employment Security Director Chris Slinkard said in a statement.

Unemployment is climbing on a national scale as well, as total initial claims for the week in the U.S. reached more than 6.5 million for the week ending on March 28 — a 3.3 million increase over the previous week’s numbers, according to the US Department of Labor. 

New unemployment insurance programs continue to emerge from federal legislation in the wake of COVID-19. This includes the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that President Donald Trump signed last week that would create a separate program, known as the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, which may cover workers ineligible for regular and extended benefits of the unemployment program. Additional guidance from the federal level is required before the state begins to implement new programs. 

Missouri is preparing for the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. Mike Parson announced a restriction of $180 million of the state budget to fight the estimated shortfall in revenue. 

More than 1,500 Missourians have tested positive for coronavirus so far, and 18 people in the state have died. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: For up-to-date information on coronavirus, check with the CDC and DHSS.