The number of new weekly unemployment cases has been inching higher for weeks with the latest number now double what it was in late September. That tracks to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Colorado and resulting local business restrictions.
But the sudden uptick has the state Department of Labor and Employment wondering whether there’s more fraud going on within Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which is the federal help available to gig workers, the self-employed and independent contractors. The PUA program was heavily targeted by scammers this summer, with the state agency preventing $1 billion from being paid but still needing to recover $40 million.
“Given the large increase in PUA initial claims in recent weeks, CDLE is conducting a review to determine what issues may be contributing to the increase, including a deep-dive fraud analysis,” the agency said in a statement. The state said it will share the analysis next week.
If this is anything like what happened in the summer, people with new PUA claims could see a delay in getting paid or other issues. The state typically does not notify users if there’s a suspicion that the claim is fraudulent. But as soon as I learn more, you can read it in a future What’s Working column.
As for the doubling of new claims? The number of new PUA claims increased to 7,281 last week, up 100% from 3,625 the week before. Overall unemployment claims were up 37% in a week to 14,764 for the week ending Nov. 7.
Another notable increase: people who had exhausted their 26 weeks of regular unemployment and had to move to Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation. PEUC, which offers an extra 13 weeks of payments, added roughly 8,900 people last week, up 18.3% from the prior week.
Ryan Gedney, the Department of Labor’s senior economist, said that this isn’t necessarily due to people who are finally seeing their PEUC payments after a hold. Rather, it’s likely due to when folks make their biweekly claim. To better visualize the number of PEUC claims, he looked at overall continued claims since Oct. 17. The number of people requesting another unemployment payment as of Oct. 31 was down 5,800.
“Some individuals could have shifted to (State Extended Benefits), but most of those 5,800 will most likely have regained employment,” Gedney said.
There are 213,703 Coloradans with “continued claims” of unemployment, as of Oct. 31. That’s up about 3% from the prior week.
However, Coloradans with unemployment cases on hold may not all be showing up in the data. Thousands of out-of-work Coloradans are not receiving unemployment benefits for one reason or another. If you’re not requesting payment every other week, you’re not counted in “continued claims.”
Gedney said, “if a continued claim isn’t being filed then it just wouldn’t show up in the data.”
New rules: Equal pay, minimum wage, paid sick days
Amid all the unemployment kerfuffles (i.e. fraud, PUA holds, overpayments) over the summer, another division of the state’s Department of Labor was tasked with making the rules for a bunch of new laws passed by the state legislature.
This week, the Division of Labor Standards and Statistics said several new rules were adopted.
Minimum wage: The state’s hourly minimum wage increases to $12.32 on Jan. 1 because the state Constitution requires it to be adjusted annually for inflation. Even in a pandemic, inflation rose to 2.7%. The minimum wage is currently $12 in Colorado.
- Tipped minimum wage increases to $9.30 an hour, from $8.98.
- New posters with the increased wage will be posted on the division’s website around Dec. 1.
Paid sick days: The Healthy Families and Workplaces Act, passed by the legislature in July, picks up where federal sick-leave requirements end. The new rules are part of the state’s Wage Protection Rules and address employees who get sick during a public-health emergency. The gist:
- The new law requires employers to allow workers to accrue paid sick days, at a rate of one hour per 30 hours worked and capped at 48 hours of benefits per year.
- During a public-health emergency, employees who work at least 40 hours a week can get 80 hours of additional paid sick leave. Part-time workers also qualify but must have been scheduled for work in the upcoming 14 days or worked in the past 14 days of the health emergency declaration.
Equal Pay: The Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, which aimed to address pay disparity for women and people of color, got some new rules, though not everything in the law was addressed. The division focused on the wage transparency in this round of rulemaking.That includes:
- Job postings must include hourly wage or pay range, plus bonuses and benefits, so applicants know the wages of the published job.
- An employer can still pay more or less than the posted range if the published range was in “good faith” by the employer’s reasonable estimate at the time.
- Employees can file a civil suit against the employer but also file a complaint or appeal to the Division.
Scott Moss, director of the Division of Labor Standards, said that rulemaking for other parts of the Equal Pay law have not been addressed but the division is looking into whether those are in its authority. Some of those law changes include forbidding employers to ask about salary history (which was cited as a reason why some workers are stuck at lower starting pay) and requiring employers to keep records.
But those things are part of the statute, he added.
“The statute is binding and doesn’t need rules to be in effect,” Moss said. “The statute itself says that complaints can be filed with the division for any of the compensation and job posting or promotion posting or record keeping requirements. And the statute then says that we investigate and enforce, and that includes authority to issue fines for violations.”
Unemployed law school grads from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law or the University of Colorado Law School can bide the pandemic by taking a free online legal bootcamp hosted by AltaClaro, which offers a training program for budding transactional attorneys to learn practical legal skills and normally costs $499.
The catch? AltaClaro donates one free spot to the schools only after law firms buy two of the seats in the class. The company was co-founded by a DU law grad and has former law school dean Marty Katz as an advisor. It’s testing out the concept and hopes to “donate hundreds of seats” to the schools, a spokeswoman said. >> Details
On another data point…
As unemployment claims are rising again, I took a look at which sectors of Colorado’s economy are seeing an increase or decrease in jobs. No surprise, jobs that allow for remote work saw not just job growth during the pandemic but throughout the past year.
Key for those looking for a new career is the “Professional and Business Services” sector, which includes computer jobs, legal services, architectects and engineers.The niche saw steady year-over-year job growth showing that there’s continued demand for those occupations even during a pandemic.
Note in the chart, several other occupations saw impressive year-over-year job growth too. But looking at the top spots — couriers and messengers, beverage manufacturing, and services to buildings and dwellings — those grew because of the pandemic and the increase in home delivery services, groundskeeping as folks stayed at home and … beer?
“A lot of this (manufacturing growth) was actually being driven in the non-durable goods component of manufacturing. Think food and beverage,” said Gedney, the state economist. “Breweries are going to be under beverages. …If you break out the beverage component of that, we’re seeing in August and September and even July growth rates of over 10% compared to the year prior.”
Come back to The Sun on Monday for the full story on how some Colorado tech companies experienced growth despite the pandemic.
>> Have a pandemic job tip or resource? Share it with What’s Working at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Polis’ $1.3 billion stimulus plan
In case you missed it: Gov. Jared Polis has a plan to inject $1.3 billion in the state’s economy next year. A lot of it has to do with jobs, though maybe not your job.
About $290 million targets investing in more rural broadband plus road and bridge construction. Investment like that is expected to help add 15,000 jobs in Colorado.
Another $168 million is to fund that one-time $375 payment to the majority of Coloradans on unemployment. There is also financial support for restaurants and small businesses.
This is Polis’ package so it still must be approved by the state legislature.
Read the details covered by my colleague John Frank: Colorado governor says his $1.3 billion stimulus plan would create up to 15,000 jobs, but questions abound.
I’ve been trying to get caught up on all the emails from folks who’ve shared their unemployment woes with me. Thank you! I’m unable to respond to all requests but it does help me figure out what questions to ask and see where the holes are in the state’s system. Keep those coming — plus I’d love to hear whether your case was resolved too. Email me at email@example.com. If you’re still researching an issue, here are some quick links to the story archives The Sun has mentioned overpayments, unemployment fraud and PUA issues.
Thanks for turning in to this week’s column. Reach out if you’ve got a question, gripe or helpful tip. And if you’d like to support What’s Working, share this with everyone you know or become a member of The Colorado: coloradosun.com/join. See you next week! ~tamara
This story was updated on Nov. 16 to clarify that AltaClaro does not offer a discount to law firms but to alumni of the two law schools.
What’s Working is a Colorado Sun column for readers navigating pandemic employment. Read the archive and don’t miss the next one. Get this free newsletter delivered to your inbox by signing up at coloradosun.com/getww.
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