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Another 79,000 Coloradans filed for unemployment last week, bringing coronavirus total to more than 350,000

The new numbers indicate that Coloradans have been losing their jobs at a fairly steady clip over the past five weeks with no signs of the damage leveling out or slowing down.

The sign at the movie theater in downtown Greeley on April 24, 2020, which closed amid the coronavirus outbreak. (John Frank, The Colorado Sun)
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Another 79,000 initial unemployment claims were filed in Colorado last week.

That brings the total number people who have sought aid after losing their jobs since the coronavirus crisis began in the state to more than 358,000.

Of the initial unemployment claims filed last week,  38,384 were among people normally eligible for unemployment and 40,906 were among gig workers and the self employed who are eligible for benefits under Congress’ $2 trillion aid package passed last month.

The new numbers indicate that Coloradans have been losing their jobs at a fairly steady clip over the past five weeks with no signs of the damage slowing.

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment says it paid out more than $86 million in regular unemployment benefits last week.

The average weekly unemployment payout this year before the coronavirus crisis was $8.7 million. During the height of the Great Recession, $19 million in regular unemployment benefits were paid out on an average weekly basis. 

COVID-19 IN COLORADO

The latest from the coronavirus outbreak in Colorado:

  • MAP: Cases and deaths in Colorado.
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In the past four weeks, unemployment payouts have totaled:

  • $74.1 Million for the week ending April 18
  • $62 million for the week ending April 11
  • $29.8 million for the week ending April 4

The state also paid out $28.7 million to self-employed and gig workers, who were eligible for the $600 weekly federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. It was the first week such workers could apply for this benefit in Colorado.

Existing workers getting typical unemployment pay also began receiving an extra $600 a week as part of the federal stimulus plan. Payments, retroactive to March 29, totaled $247.4 million for the week. The pandemic pay is funded by the U.S. government — not the state’s unemployment fund.

As businesses reopen, some workers not ready to return

The labor agency also updated guidance as employers prepare to reopen but face concerns by workers who don’t want to return. If workers feel unsafe going back to work if asked, that’s considered a job refusal and the worker could lose their unemployment benefits, the state labor agency said.

By Gov. Jared Polis’ recent executive order, workers are allowed to remain at home if they are part of a vulnerable population, can work remotely or are entitled to paid leave as part of the Colorado HELP rules.

However, an employer can protest the job refusal by filing a report with the labor agency. About 40 employers have submitted concerns since the form became available over the weekend.

“We’re sensitive to both sides of the equation, relative to (employers) wanting to see some economic activity resume but also really being focused on the safety and health of the workers,” said said Jeff Fitzgerald, the agency’s unemployment insurance director, in a call Thursday with journalists. “There is no black and white answer to the question of, ‘Will they stop getting benefits?’ It really is a situation where it would trigger an event where we would collect facts about the job refusal.”

The agency would investigate employer concerns by taking into consideration state and local shelter-at-home restrictions, plus see if employers took “reasonable steps” in making the workplace safer, which includes adding new cleaning standards or providing masks and gloves, he said.

Unemployment grows nationwide

The national unemployment situation, meanwhile, also continues to worsen.

More than 3.8 million laid-off workers applied for unemployment benefits last week across the country as the U.S. economy slid further into a crisis that is becoming the most devastating since the 1930s.

Roughly 30.3 million people have now filed for jobless aid in the six weeks since the coronavirus outbreak began forcing millions of employers to close their doors and slash their workforces. That is more people than live in the New York and Chicago metropolitan areas combined, and it’s by far the worst string of layoffs on record. It adds up to more than one in six American workers.

With more employers cutting payrolls to save money, economists have forecast that the unemployment rate for April could go as high as 20%. That would be the highest rate since it reached 25% during the Great Depression.


The Associated Press contributed to this report


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