PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The economic devastation triggered by the coronavirus pandemic is worse in Rhode Island than in any other state, at least by one metric.
Rhode Island saw a larger share of its workforce file for unemployment benefits last week than any other state in the country, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of newly released data showing claims have shot into the stratosphere nationwide.
A total of 6.4% of the Rhode Island labor force filed a jobless claim last week, equivalent to about one in 15 workers. Only two other states were anywhere close to that level last week, Nevada (5.98%) and Pennsylvania (5.79%), with Massachusetts ranked fourth at 3.86%.
Gov. Gina Raimondo has taken ever more aggressive steps to try and stem the spread of COVID-19 in Rhode Island, from closing school buildings and banning dine-in service at restaurants to sharply limiting how many customers can go inside stores at once.
“The economic impacts here are devastating, and starting to be hard-felt by many families,” Raimondo said at her daily coronavirus briefing on Thursday. “There are many, many vulnerable families who are really struggling.”
According to the R.I. Department of Labor and Training, about 61,000 people have filed for unemployment benefits from March 9 through Wednesday, the vast majority citing COVID-19. An additional 9,900 people filed for Temporary Disability Insurance or its sister program for caregivers.
Based on the size of the Rhode Island labor force in February, a rough estimate suggests the claims have pushed the state’s unemployment from just over 3% to roughly 15% in less than a month. Fewer than 19,000 people were officially unemployed as of just last month — the lowest number since 1989.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook
Eli Sherman contributed to this report.