PRIMER, our morning newsletter, is made possible by the INDY Press Club. Your contributions help us keep local independent journalism viable in the Triangle, coronavirus be damned. 

Subscribe here and learn everything you need to know before you head out the door each morning.



This morning, the Department of Labor released its monthly jobs report. It was immediately irrelevant. The DOL’s jobs survey runs through March 14, right before everything went FUBAR. 

From March 15–28, we learned from the initial jobless claims report yesterday, 10 million Americans filed for unemployment—a staggering 3.3 million the first week, an unbelievable 6.6 million the next. For comparison, the pre-coronavirus high was about 650,000 in the ’80s. 

Today’s jobs report says the unemployment rate is 4.4 percent, with 701,000 lost jobs. The real number, according to researchers at The Century Foundation, is more like 17 percent—and climbing. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that young people and people of color are being hit the hardest.

→ IN NORTH CAROLINA: Nearly 265,000 people filed unemployment claims from March 15 to March 28—94,083 the first week and 170,881 last week. Of those, 94,000 were awarded benefits. 

State Senator Wiley Nickel emailed me yesterday while he was on a conference call with Division of Employment Security officials. The state had eclipsed 351,000 claims, he said, which means it has received more than 85,000 since Sunday. (At a press conference later on, DES assistant secretary Lockhart Taylor said they’d received 355,000 and paid out $8.2 million in benefits.)

The actual number is probably higher: Until federal benefits enacted by Congress last month kick in, gig workers and freelancers are ineligible for benefits. 

The Century Foundation estimates that North Carolina’s real unemployment rate is 36 percent—up from 3.6 percent in February—the seventh-highest in the country.

As of yesterday, Wiley said, the state had denied 53,000 of those claims. Most were rejected because they didn’t make enough money to qualify; often, they’re tipped workers whose employers reported paying them less than $5,900. Wiley said he thinks some of these people will be eligible for federal benefits, but he’s not sure. 

Fact of the day: Only 10.5 percent of the state’s unemployed workers collect benefits, the lowest percentage of any state. 


From both an economic and public health standpoint, March was a nightmare. Thousands of deaths. Hospitals overwhelmed. Ten million lost jobs. Businesses closed. A deep recession. The stock market gutted. And the coronavirus is expected to rage for at least a month, probably two. 

The IRS is rushing to get stimulus checks out. People with bank accounts on file—about 80 percent of taxpayers—could get their $1,200 direct deposited next week. Paper checks, however, won’t go out until April 24, and some might not get sent until September. Lower-income Americans will be prioritized, Treasury says. 

Small businesses can apply for $350 billion in loans beginning today. There is a lot of concern that the administration won’t be able to handle the rush: “But lawmakers and staff who helped draft the rescue package have privately expressed concerns that the Trump administration—particularly the Small Business Administration and Labor Department—may be overwhelmed by the demand for loans and unable to get checks out the door as fast and responsibly as they’re needed.” The loans are supposed to be distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis.  

Banks aren’t still figuring out how to complete the loans. Treasury and the SBA released additional guidelines last night, including on what documentation businesses need to provide. As part of the new guidelines, Treasury doubled the interest rate banks can charge to 1 percent. (The loans are forgiven if employers use them to make payroll, pay rent, retain employees, and hire back anyone who was laid off.) 

These loans are key to any recovery. “Washington leaders expect to have a good idea in the next two weeks about whether the stimulus programs are successful, a Trump administration official said. … Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been preparing the House of Representatives for a sweeping Phase 4 stimulus package, but most Senate aides tell Axios their first concern is making sure the CARES Act isn’t a failure.”

Click here to read the rest of today’s PRIMER.

The newsletter is sponsored this week by Ninth Street Bakery, which is serving coffee, pastries, and sandwiches for (contact-free) takeout or curbside pickup from 8:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. on Monday through Saturday and 9:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m. on Sunday and offering free lunch or bread for any service workers who were laid off or are only partially employed as a result of the virus.

Want PRIMER sent directly to your mailbox every weekday morning? Click HERE to set your newsletter preferences.