JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Government figures show Alaska unemployment claims have hit new heights amid business closures and cutbacks over coronavirus concerns.
Claims for the latest weekly reporting period totaled 13,774, up from a revised figure of 7,847 the week prior, Lennon Weller, actuary for Alaska’s unemployment insurance system, said Thursday.
For comparison, between mid- and late-February, weekly claims were as low as 773, U.S. Department of Labor data shows.
The federal data for the latest reporting period is higher than what Weller reported, as it was the prior week. Weller said there sometimes is a discrepancy that usually gets sorted out within weeks.
Regardless, the numbers are huge. “We’re breaking records, week over week, that’s for sure,” he said.
A review of federal labor data, dating to January 2000, shows claims during that period previously hit a weekly high of 4,901 in January 2010.
State labor Commissioner Tamika Ledbetter recently told reporters the department has had “every staff member who is available working those phones” to handle a deluge of calls. The department encourages Alaskans to file for benefits online.
On Wednesday, state officials extended indefinitely the closure of businesses such as gyms and theaters and dine-in service at restaurants and bars in hopes of slowing the spread of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, RavnAir Group, a regional air carrier that serves many rural Alaska communities, announced it is sharply curtailing operations because of what it says has been a 90% reduction in passenger bookings.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy said the aviation industry is working cooperatively to ensure essential passenger service, mail and freight service are maintained. In a statement, he said the U.S. Postal Service has told him it is working with contract carriers to maintain scheduled service to rural communities.