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Unemployment Claims Numbers Daunting, Keep Them Quiet “For Now’

March 19, 2020

In an email sent Wednesday, the Labor Department instructed state officials to only “provide information using generalities to describe claims levels (very high, large increase)” until the department releases the total number of national claims next Thursday.

The request is just one more example of Trump working to disrupt and deflect the severity of this colossal and most grave crisis in our nation.

The email, which was shared with The New York Times, noted that the reports were monitored closely by financial markets and should, therefore, remain embargoed. “States should not provide numeric values to the public,” wrote Gay Gilbert, the administrator of the department’s Office of Employment Insurance.

On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin warned lawmakers that unemployment could rocket to 20%.

The Labor Department’s report Thursday on applications for unemployment insurance during the week ending last Saturday showed a jump of 33% as 70,000 more people filed for jobless benefits compared with the prior week, led by California, Washington state and Nevada.

And it wasn’t until this week that many employers began to send workers home in response to widespread lockdown orders for restaurants, bars and other venues where people congregate in large numbers, and millions of Americans began to shelter in place.

The staying quiet request prompted at least one governor’s office, according to The New York Times to seek an opinion from the state attorney general about whether they had to temporarily withhold the information.

In another state, lawmakers got a preview of the staggering numbers that are being withheld for the moment. In a private conference call Thursday with elected officials and union leaders, a top Pennsylvania labor official was blunt about the depth of the economic crisis, according to someone on the call.

Robert O’Brien, the state’s deputy secretary of labor and industry, said the government had been overwhelmed by a flood of unemployment insurance claims — 180,000 just in the last few days. He said that was far more than the state usually gets in a whole month.

The situation may be even more dire in Washington, the first epicenter of the contagion in the U.S. State officials there would only say they are seeing an “even more dramatic increase this week” after unemployment claims soared 150 percent last week from the week before.

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