Colorado’s economy stumbling into end of 2020 as another 40,000 file for unemployment

Colorado’s second wave of mass unemployment filings during the coronavirus pandemic picked up momentum last week and the state’s economy comes stumbling into the end of 2020.

Another 40,475 people opened or reopened claims for benefits, according to numbers released Thursday by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. That’s an 11.6% increase over the 36,257 people who filed claims during the week ending Dec. 5. and represents a new peak since claims numbers started rising again this fall.

The new spike mirrors a surge in COVID-19 infections in Colorado and stricter business limitations enacted to try to combat the virus, including a new prohibition on indoor dining in many places.

Restaurant workers have been especially hard hit by the latest uptick in job and wages losses. People in the accommodation and food services industries filed 5,606 unemployment claims in Colorado during the week ending Nov. 28, labor department records show. That’s 45.5% of all claims for that week and up from 520 claims from workers in those industries filed during the week ending Oct. 17.

Researchers from personal finance website WalletHub says that Colorado’s jobless claims increased at the third-highest rate in the country last week, trailing only Illinois and Kansas.

Unemployment filings in the state have risen at the 14th highest rate in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic, according to WalletHub. The number of claims filed between the third week of March and the second week of December this year is up 975.8% compared to the same period in 2019.

New claims filed last week were split between traditional state unemployment and the federally funded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA program; 19,854 for the former and 20,621 for the latter, according to the state labor department.

The recent surge in new filings can be attributed in part to many people reopening claims from earlier this year after losing their jobs or hours again, state labor economist Ryan Gedney said in a news call last week. Some people filing for PUA are long-term unemployed people who have run out of state benefits but are still out of work because of the pandemic, making them eligible for federal support.

The PUA program, created by the CARES Act this year to support gig workers, self-employed people and others not covered by traditional unemployment insurance programs, runs out of funding on Dec. 26 in Colorado unless Congress moves to extend it. The same is true for the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, or PEUC, which gives people who have used all 26 weeks of state benefits an additional 13 weeks of support.

Congressional Republicans and Democrats are reportedly close to an agreement on a $900 billion stimulus package that would include money for extended unemployment benefits but as of Thursday morning, nothing had been approved.

Unemployment filings are surging across the country, with 885,000 people seeking support last week.

In Colorado, 255,617 people filed continued claims for support during the week ending Dec. 5, the highest total since mid July. Of those people, 158,563 people are on federal programs that run out of funding next week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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