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RI’s unemployment rate on track to top Great Recession levels

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – At least 50,000 Rhode Islanders are now out of work because of COVID-19, suggesting the current unemployment rate has likely exceeded any level seen during the Great Recession, according to newly released labor data.

The R.I. Department of Labor and Training reports more than 12,000 new people cited the COVID-19 pandemic when filing for Unemployment Insurance and Temporary Disability Insurance on Saturday, Sunday and Monday combined. (TDI includes a second program: Temporary Caregiver Insurance.)

The new influx of Rhode Islanders out of work because of COVID-19 brings to total to 50,714. Combined with others filing claims without citing COVID-19, and the number jumps to 56,297 since March 9.

Based on the size of the state’s labor force earlier this year, a rough estimate suggests the new claims could push the unemployment rate to about 13.5% compared to 3.4% in January. That would be higher than any point during the 2008 financial crisis and Great Recession, when unemployment peaked at 11.2%, according to DLT data.

Another way to look at it: during the worst months of the Great Recession — June and July 2010, shortly after the state was hit by devastating floods — Rhode Island peaked at about 64,000 residents unemployed. If the people who have filed since March 9 due to COVID-19 are added to those who were already unemployed in January, that would number would be 75,000 now.

After an initial spike following Gov. Gina Raimondo’s order to close all dine-in services, the number of Rhode Islanders filing for unemployment benefits each day had steadily declined. But it soared again on Monday – by about 5,800 – after Raimondo ordered all entertainment and recreational businesses, along with beauty salons, barber shops and gyms, to also shutter.

The unemployment numbers for March so far are staggering considering only about 11,600 Rhode Islanders filed new claims for benefits during the entire month of January, when the outbreak was mostly confined to China.

“I know how devastating this is to our economy,” Raimondo said during Monday’s daily briefing, adding that the state is doing everything as quickly as possible to get businesses reopened.

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Ted Nesi contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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