When the federal government rolled out its startling — and grim — new national unemployment-claim figures, they set a record.
The even grimmer news: they likely lowballed the real picture.
The new national tally was that 3.3 million American filed for unemployment help for the week ending March 21 — nearly five times the previous weekly record, set during a recession under President Ronald Reagan four decades ago.
Pennsylvania led all states with 378,908 claims, making up 12% of the total nationwide. Ohio was second, with 187,784 claims.
And Pennsylvania and Ohio both bested California, the nation’s most populous state. It came in third.
New York is the fourth most populous state, and its governor, Andrew Cuomo, considers it to be the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. Yet it is not even in the top 10 in the U.S. count. New York ranked 14th with 80,334 claims.
All of which suggests that the New York and California figures barely captured the coming hit to unemployment rolls in those states.
In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a state-wide stay at home order on March 19. On Wednesday he said, “We just passed the one million mark, in terms of the number of claims, just since March 13.” That makes California’s official tally of 186,809 as of March 21 seem like an undercount.
In New York, officials said that citizens had made more than 1.7 million calls to its unemployment offices, casting doubt on the mere 80,000 claims filed with the state for the federal count.
Federal statisticians flagged both the Pennsylvania and Ohio counts with an asterisk to indicate the numbers were estimates. While a statistical asterisk usually means something is off, such as home run records during the era of steroids, here the asterisk appeared to highlight a more credible accounting.
One reason for the apparent lag in the federal figures is that they may reflect the numbers processed, as opposed to the numbers filed. State bureaucracies may be reeling from the sheer volume of the surge. Numbers are likely to spike again next week as more claims are processed.
This is even true in Pennsylvania. On Thursday, Spotlight PA reported that the state’s latest unemployment claims topped 645,000 over the previous 10 days.