Michigan’s unemployment is third highest in the country

Posted at 5:59 PM, Apr 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-15 06:53:35-04

LANSING, Mich. (WXYZ) — Here in Michigan the unemployment rate was 3.6% in just February, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Now as the COVID-19 crisis shuts down businesses, we are still working to find out exactly how severe the situation is. The state says according to its data, Michigan has the third highest unemployment rate in the nation.

The unemployment system has been simply unable to handle all the claims. The state is taking action to try to add staff and improve the website to handle historic need.

The Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity held a press conference to talk about what it is doing to meet the demand. It announced it has increased staff to handle the increase in calls and has also increased the number of servers supporting the website. While some people are able to get through without issues, others are finding themselves struggling.

Mike Cowan from Sterling Heights says he is fortunate his family still has income as his wife is working from home. He says was laid off from a new job because his job was deemed not essential during the COVID-19 crisis - and since last month has struggled to get his unemployment insurance claim approved. He called again this morning to get help from a person.

“It said sorry, due to call volume we cannot accept your call. So I basically had to go the on-line route. and if you don’t go on at 8 am you don’t get on at all,” said Cowan.

He says while caring for his little girl, for 4 hours he sat waiting to communicate with someone in the on-line chatroom, touching the screen every couple of minutes so he didn’t get kicked out for inactivity.

“I have a two-year old daughter. She needed me for a second. I set down my tablet 3 minutes came back, and I got booted out,” said Cowan.

“Over a million people. Over a quarter of our workforce have filed for unemployment benefits,” said Jeff Donofrio, Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Director.

Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Director Jeff Donofrio spoke today about what is being done to improve the process for folks. He says there have been issues in processing not just the high numbers, but the new types of workers eligible. For example the under-employed who have had their hours cut, 1099 contract and self employed workers, people who are quarantined or have to care for children or family members are all eligible.

“We have greatly expanded our web service. We are adding hundreds of staff, but our state systems and systems across the country have struggled to cope with these numbers,” he said.

The Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity said it looked into whether it could stop requiring everyone to re apply every single week due to these unusual circumstances and the stressed infrastructure, but in order to get federal dollars laid-off workers need to apply every week.

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