A help wanted sign points to a better tomorrow. (Courtesy photo)
A help wanted sign points to a better tomorrow. (Courtesy photo)

The District has become part of the national trend of economic growth and falling unemployment claims despite the presence of the coronavirus pandemic.

On Nov. 24, WTOP reported the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits plummeted the prior week to the lowest level in more than 50 years.

Overall, two million Americans collected traditional unemployment the week that ended Nov. 13, down slightly from the week before. Nationally, jobless claims dropped by 71,000 to 199,000, the lowest since mid-November 1969. However, seasonal adjustments near the Thanksgiving holiday contributed significantly to the bigger-than-expected drop. Unadjusted claims increased by more than 18,000 to nearly 259,000.

The recent fall in joblessness contrasts with the economic picture last year. Due to the pandemic, which started in March according to public health experts, employers cut more than 22 million jobs. Additionally, businesses closed or cut hours of employees and many Americans stayed at home with the encouragement of government officials, as a health precaution.

The federal government responded with stimulus checks for millions of Americans, a special pandemic unemployment insurance payment of $300 and an extension of jobless benefits for gig workers. In the District, the Bowser administration offered a one-time payment for unemployed District residents during December 2020.

Pandemic Notwithstanding, D.C. has jobs

The D.C. Department of Employment Services (DOES) recently announced that the city’s unemployment rate sat at 6.3%, a decrease of 0.3% from the revised September rate of 6.6%. In the Washington metropolitan area, the October jobless rate stood at 4.1%.

Ward 3 had the lowest unemployment rate with 2.9% while Wards 7 and 8 had the highest jobless numbers with 9.6% and 13%, respectively.

DOES Director Dr. Unique Hughes-Morris praised the city’s economic progress.

“DOES is proud of the role we have played in the District’s recovery from the pandemic,” she said. “We remain committed to connecting eager, motivated District residents to good-paying jobs that will offer them a fair shot at economic security.”

DOES data reveals an increase of 13,300 jobs for a total of 763,800 jobs in the District in September. Specifically, the private sector increased by 13,200 jobs while the public sector added 100 jobs. The number of employed District residents grew by 2,000 from 384,400 in September to 386,400 in October.

The Woes of Unemployment Benefits Claims

When many District businesses and government agencies shut down in March 2020, the city’s unemployment compensation experienced a phenomenal growth in claims. DOES statistics report that the agency received over 165,000 individual unemployment insurance claims, more than the previous five years combined. The exponential increase in claims created a backlog lasting throughout the year that frustrated potential unemployment benefits recipients and District lawmakers alike. Claimants spoke of lengthy delays for assistance on phones and experiencing an extensive wait before receiving their money.

In February, the Bowser administration allocated $11 million to deal with these issues with more customer service representatives available by telephone, a chatbox on the DOES website for quicker responses and a robocall-text system designed to answer claimants quicker. A spokesperson for the agency said in an email “DOES pays all eligible unemployment insurance claims in a timely manner.”

“In August, DOES launched an updated, mobile comparable unemployment insurance claims portal to make filing easier for D.C. workers,” the spokesperson said.

James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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