The U.S. Department of Labor released a second straight devastating weekly jobless-claims report this morning.

In the week that ended on March 28, it found, more than 6.6 million Americans had filed for unemployment benefits. The week before, 3.3 million did. 

In just two weeks, in other words, 10 million people have lost their jobs since the coronavirus pandemic closed restaurants and businesses and forced people to stay in their homes. (Before this crisis, the highest weekly claims report in U.S. history was about 650,000.) 

Of those jobless claims, 264,964 have come from North Carolina, according to the report: 94,083 in the week ending on March 21, and a staggering 170,881 last week.

According to the report, so far about 94,000 of them have been granted benefits. 

To put those numbers in perspective, consider what unemployment has looked like in North Carolina over the last two decades, courtesy of The New York Times’s Upshot, which posted this graphic after last week’s report. 

The actual unemployment total is likely higher.

The new federal benefits enacted by Congress last month haven’t kicked in; until it does, gig workers and freelancers are ineligible for unemployment in many states, including North Carolina. If their employers didn’t report tips as income, tipped workers including bartenders and servers might not receive benefits, either. And, of course, workers who have been paid under the table are ineligible.  

In addition, in North Carolina and elsewhere, unemployment offices have been overwhelmed by claims applications. As Governor Cooper said this week, “We are taking a system that has been used to about 3,000 claims per week and now have put almost 300,000 on them.”

Even before the surge, North Carolina made the process difficult. According to a paper published on Wednesday by the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, only 10.5 percent of the state’s unemployed workers collect benefits, the lowest percentage of any state. 

Tomorrow morning, the Labor Department will release its March jobs report, which will include a new unemployment rate. But because the government’s survey closed on March 14—before the wave of layoffs began—the rate will probably remain in the single digits (the projection is about 4 percent, up from 3.5 percent in February) and will massively underestimate the hemorrhaging. 

So labor economists at The Century Foundation put together their estimates for what a real March unemployment rate would look like.

Nationwide, the TCF says, the unemployment rate is likely at 17 percent, twice as high as at the peak of the Great Recession. Young people and people of color have been hit the hardest. 

In North Carolina, the real rate is likely at 36 percent—up from 3.6 percent in February. That’s the seventh-highest rate in the country.

For comparison, they project that Louisiana will go from a 5.3 percent rate to 44.9 percent, and New Hampshire will go from 2.6 percent to 44.6 percent. Utah’s 2.5 percent unemployment rate, on the other hand, will remain unchanged, while California’s will rise from 3.9 percent to a somewhat manageable 6.7 percent.

Update, 11:55 a.m.: State Senator Wiley Nickel, who emailed the INDY while on a conference call with state Division of Employment Security Assistant Secretary Lockhart Taylor and other DES staff members, says that, as of today, the state has received more than 351,000 claims, indicating that about 80,000 have been filed since Saturday.  

Taylor, Nickel told the INDY, said on the call that about 53,000 of those claims have been rejected. Most—like tipped workers—were rejected because the people filing didn’t get paid enough money to qualify for benefits, meaning their employer reported paying them less than $5,900 in income for the last year.  

“You can have some cases where the employer didn’t report their full income, and there’s an appeals process for that,” Nickel said. “We’re still waiting on answers from staff about the federal benefits, but I understand some of those 53,000 rejected North Carolinians could find themselves eligible for the federal benefits ($600 per week).”

Contact editor in chief Jeffrey C. Billman at

DEAR READERS, WE NEED YOUR HELP NOW MORE THAN EVER. Support independent local journalism by joining the INDY Press Club today. Your contributions will keep our fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle, coronavirus be damned.