By Jeffry Bartash, MarketWatch
New York is suffering from the most COVID-19 cases by far, but 14 other states saw bigger increases in new jobless claims last week during a record surge in the number of Americans getting laid off.
In New York, new jobless claims soared to 80,334 last week from 14,272. Yet new claims leaped in Pennsylvania by a much larger 378,908 from 15,439.
New York had more than 33,000 cases of COVID-19, the illness derived from the novel coronavirus that originated late last year in China. By contrast, Pennsylvania had just 1,151 cases, according to the most recent figures compiled by the New York Times.
What explains such yawning gaps?
The difference in new jobless claims reflects a number of factors, the most of important of which is the ability to handle a flood of applications. N ew York state’s system was overwhelmed last week and many people were unable to file. State officials have indicated the number of people who wanted to file claims was actually much higher.
Similarly in California, the state’s governor said some 1 million new claims were filed from March 13 to March 25. Officially, the state “only” reported a 186,000 increase last week.
“Bottlenecks at states overwhelmed by the surge in the number of claims are likely producing delays in processing,” said lead economist Nancy Vanden Houten at Oxford Economics.
Other factors at work include the timing and extent to which different states ordered businesses to close. Georgia kept its state open longer even as COVID-19 cases surged, so it reported a much smaller increase in new claims than other large states.
The only state that saw an unusually small increase was Utah. New jobless claims rose a scant 9,000 to 1,314 — a less than 1% increase. Utah is one of the most remote U.S. states and only had 336 reported COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday.
The table above shows all the increases in jobless claims in the 50 states and Washington, D.C. These figures are based on advance state estimates and are unadjusted. They are not comparable to jobless claims reported in prior weeks, including the seasonally adjusted figures in the main Labor Department report that are widely reported on.