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Unemployment Benefit Claims Jump In March

April 17, 2020
No. 20-11

JUNEAU, Alaska — More than 32,000 people filed an initial claim for unemployment insurance benefits in March (32,128), a 637 percent increase over the 4,359 who filed in March 2019, as Alaska businesses closed or reduced their services to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The biggest increase in initial claims came during the second half of March, as the first attached chart shows. Most of those claims will result in benefit payments, but that usually takes about two weeks. 

The number who received unemployment benefits for at least one week in March was 14,239, an increase of 33 percent over March 2019. The number receiving benefits will spike in April as the large wave of initial claims from March is processed.

Claimant numbers by industry show some were hit quickly by the shutdown. (See the second chart in the attachment.) The biggest jump came from accommodation and food services, with 2,689 receiving benefits - up from 884 in March 2019 - as hotels and restaurants closed or limited service.

The next biggest increase was in health care and social assistance due to a dramatic reduction in nonemergency medical visits and procedures. Two other categories with large increases were transportation and warehousing and trade, a category that covers retail and wholesale trade. 

Across the state, the largest claimant increases from last March were in Anchorage, followed by the Matanuska-Susitna and Kenai Peninsula boroughs. (See the third chart.) It’s not yet clear why some parts of the state didn't show a rise in claimants from last March, but that is certain to change when April numbers become available next month.

Similarly, the shutdown’s initial effects on Alaska’s job numbers and unemployment rate won’t be clear until April’s data come out next month. Alaska’s job count in March was up 0.4 percent from March 2019, an increase of 1,400. The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell two-tenths of a percentage point, to 5.6 percent, and the comparable U.S rate increased from 3.5 percent to 4.4 percent.

View claims data tables and charts (PDF)

For employment and unemployment rate data, see the labor force data home page.