Nearly two months after Gov. Kay Ivey and state health officials relaxed health orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic and re-opened portions of the economy, weekly unemployment insurance filings have leveled off, but remain about 10 percent higher than numbers seen in February.
From a total of 64,216 reported statewide the month before the pandemic began, unemployment filings spiked to more than 92,000 in March, peaked at 311,247 in April, then fell to 121,142 in May and down to 71,260 in June.
According to the latest data released by the Alabama Department of Labor this week, more than 612,137 people have filed unemployment claims in the state since the pandemic began, or nearly 28 percent of the civilian labor force.
Still, the official unemployment rate is in single digits — just 9.9 percent in May — down from a revised rate of 13.8 percent in April. June’s rate is expected to be published next week.
Last month, Ivey said the falling rates and numbers “reflects that people are returning to work following the pandemic-related shutdown.” Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington added that “more than 80,000 fewer people were counted as unemployed [in May], while the number of employed rose by more than 128,300.”
Even though many people have returned to work, Baldwin and Mobile counties remain two of the hardest hit in the state. In Baldwin County, some 29,180 people have filed claims since March, along with some 64,988 in Mobile County. Those numbers represent the sixth and second highest numbers in the state, respectively, and represent more than 30 percent of the civilian labor force in each county filing for unemployment at some point during the pandemic.
The Mobile-Daphne-Fairhope, Alabama Combined Statistical Area (CSA) is the only one of four CSAs in the state to eclipse 30 percent of its civilian labor force filing for unemployment, but those rates remain far lower than some counties in the Black Belt, where several are near the 50 percent mark.
Rural Wilcox County leads the state with 52 percent of its civilian labor force filing for unemployment during the pandemic. Nearby Hale County, Lowndes County, Greene County and Dallas County fill out the top five in the state, and all have majority Black populations.
On the other end of the spectrum is Shelby County, where only 10.9 percent of the civilian workforce filed for unemployment since March. The population there is around 83 percent White, according to 2010 Census demographics.
Officially, Clay County has the lowest unemployment rate at 5.6 percent, while Wilcox has the highest at 19.3 percent. The official unemployment rates are calculated monthly by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics using surveys.
The ADOL reminded claimants last week that federal and state law requires the ADOL to redetermine eligibility on a quarterly basis for regular unemployment of up to $275 per week and additional federal unemployment benefits of $600 per week. The last quarter ended July 5, and ADOL began automatically redetermining the claims. Weekly benefit amounts or eligibility may change but no action is required by the claimant.
Last month, the state reported it had paid a total of $476,604,701 worth of benefits from its Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, which had a balance of $529 million May 15. Comparatively, in March, the fund had a $700 million balance.
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