Iowans file record unemployment claims; food industry hurt most by COVID-19

After Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced the closure of restaurants and bars, Zombie Burger in downtown Des Moines posted notices on their doors and advised customers to keep distance between themselves. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

A record 41,890 Iowans applied for unemployment last week, showing just how disruptive the COVID-19 pandemic has been to Iowa’s economy and workforce.

For the week of March 15, 13,364 food-service workers filed unemployment claims, which is one of the hardest-hit industries that screeched to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. Kim Reynolds issued an emergency declaration on March 17 ordering restaurants and bars to cease dine-in services, resulting in massive layoffs across the state as officials try to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Iowa Workforce Development reported about 5,000 Iowa health care and social assistance workers filed unemployment claims last week. Health care and social assistance was the second-largest industry to experience layoffs.

A total of $10.7 million of unemployment insurance benefits were paid to Iowans last week.

Nationally, a record 3.3 million people filed for unemployment, according to numbers released by the U.S. Department of Labor on Thursday.

State officials eased unemployment filing restrictions earlier this month with the expectation that Iowa businesses would suffer closures and layoffs due to COVID-19.

Workers who file for unemployment receive a weekly payout based on their wages and number of dependents.

For the average food-service worker earning $11 an hour, a full-time employee with no dependents would receive about $232 a week. An employee earning the same wage, but with two dependents, would receive about $255 a week.

The U.S. Senate late Wednesday night approved a $2 trillion spending bill that aims to provide economic relief for workers and businesses and to aid hospitals and states reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic.

A significant piece of the Senate’s plan is a dramatic increase in unemployment insurance benefits. That would include about $600 per person per week in federal money, which would be in addition to what people get from states.

Individuals would also receive direct checks of $1,200 per person for many adults and $500 for dependent children. The amounts would be less for those with higher incomes and could be sent out within the coming weeks, Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey told reporters on Wednesday.

It awaits House approval before going to President Donald Trump’s desk.

Linh Ta
Reporter Linh Ta comes to Iowa Capital Dispatch from the Des Moines Register, where she covered trending news, public safety and the suburbs. Most recently, she has covered retail business and followed both national and local trends to provide insight about the issues that matter the most to Iowans. Beyond traditional journalism, Ta has worked as a speech coach with the Des Moines Storytellers Project with the goal of sharing the diverse perspectives of Iowans from all walks of life. She is the 2019 winner of the Young Iowa Journalist Award and the winner of an Iowa Broadcast News Award. Email her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @linhmaita.