PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The number of Rhode Islanders filing for unemployment benefits continues to climb by the thousands on a daily basis, as the COVID-19 outbreak wreaks havoc on the local workforce.
The R.I. Department of Labor and Training reports nearly 7,000 more people cited the COVID-19 pandemic when filing for Unemployment Insurance and Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) on Wednesday. (TDI includes a second program, Temporary Caregiver Insurance.)
The new influx of Rhode Islanders out of work because of COVID-19 brings the total to 26,570 in just the last nine days. Combined with those who are claiming benefits without citing COVID-19, and the number jumps to more than 30,000 in little more than a week.
That’s 61% more than the total number of people reported unemployed in January, according to the DLT.
Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo on Wednesday called the number of claims “unprecedented.”
The 6,995 people who filed claims on Wednesday — 6,084 for UI and 911 for TDI — was slightly less than the day before, when a surge of people filed claims in the wake of Raimondo’s order to close all dine-in restaurants and bars and to limit all gatherings larger than 25 people.
The unemployment numbers are staggering considering only about 11,600 people filed new claims for unemployment benefits in Rhode Island during the entire month of January, when the outbreak was still mostly confined to China.
Based on the size of the state’s labor force, a rough estimate suggests the new claims could push the unemployment rate to about 8.1% compared to the 3.4% reported in January. That would be the highest level since May 2014.
The state’s food services, lodging, leisure and hospitality industries together employed about 61,100 people in January, according to DLT. An additional 48,400 people worked in retail.
The net position of Rhode Island’s Employment Security Fund, which pays for unemployment benefits, stood at $559 million as of June 30, according to the state’s annual audit.
Raimondo has expressed concern about how quickly that could run out, although she said it’s in good shape relative to the Great Recession.
The second-term governor has called on federal leaders to pass another stimulus to replenish the fund and urged President Donald Trump to activate the federal Disaster Unemployment Assistance program, which covers benefits in states that suffer from a disaster.
Ted Nesi contributed to this report.