A New York Times article last week examining unofficial state-level reports from only 15 states suggests nearly 630,000 unemployment insurance claims have been filed over the past several days. This is almost 350,000 more claims than were filed in all states last week. Those numbers and the economic dislocation and uncertainty they represent are just the beginning of what is certain to be a lengthy and difficult process of supporting American families who will need assistance in returning to work or finding new jobs once the crisis passes.
Recent efforts by Congress to strengthen paid leave and bolster unemployment insurance administrative capacity are a good first step in providing immediate relief for suddenly dislocated workers. But providing money is only the initial challenge. Filing delays, overwhelmed call centers, crashing IT systems, and a rush of emergency staff hiring at unemployment offices are signs of a critical bureaucratic bottleneck in process. We need to be looking at how states are innovating around this challenge and encourage replication of practices that reduce wait times and speed the delivery of benefits.