RIO RANCHO, N.M. (AP) — More than 28,000 New Mexico residents have applied for unemployment benefits — over 50% the amount filed the previous record week — amid the widespread economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus, new federal numbers showed.
The continuing surge in applications in one of the poorest states in the U.S. was a striking indication of the economic damage the COVID-19 outbreak keeps inflicting across the U.S.
According to numbers released Thursday by U.S. Department of Labor, New Mexico saw 28,182 people apply for unemployment benefits last week compared to record 17,187 the week before. That’s a 55.7% increase. Filings for unemployment aid generally reflect the pace of layoffs.
In its report, the Labor Department said more than 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week — doubling a record high set just one week earlier — a sign that layoffs are accelerating in the time of the coronavirus.
Combined with last week’s report that 3.3 million people sought unemployment aid two weeks ago, the U.S. economy has now suffered nearly 10 million layoffs in just the past several weeks. That far exceeds the figure for any corresponding period on record.
New Mexico’s Workforce Solutions Department that oversees unemployment in a state of 2 million residents says phone lines were overwhelmed by more than a half-million calls in one day as the federal government prepared to expand unemployment coverage to independent contractors, the self-employed and gig-economy workers. It was too soon this week to process those claims.
“If you’re self-employed – please, please, please do not call,” rough-shaven Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley said in a video distributed over social media. “Not only can’t we process your claim, but we’re taking up phone lines from a bunch of other people who are eligible right now.”
The latest numbers come as oil and gas prices continue to fall — hurting one of New Mexico’s most robust industries — and as state officials imposed new restrictions on non-essential businesses to stop the spread of the coronavirus.