Record number of unemployment applications flooding into Colorado Department of Labor and Employment

By John Finefrock
Staff Writer
The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) is receiving an unprecedented number of unemployment applications in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We started seeing a surge of applications to our system really starting the week of [March] 16th and we saw the greatest volume really after the 18th,” said Cher Roybal Haavind, deputy executive director and chief communications officer for the CDLE, in a phone interview Monday, noting Gov. Jared Polis’ executive order that closed all ski resorts in the state had a significant impact.
Haavind explained that from Monday, March 23 to Sunday, March 29, the CDLE received about 100,000 applications.
“These are preliminary, unofficial claims numbers, these are only the number of applications received,” Haavind said.
The previous single-week record for initial claims filed and processed in Colorado was 7,749, and Haavind discussed the difference between that number and the 100,000 applications from last week.
“One is an official data point that’s submitted to the U.S. Department of Labor every Wednesday, embargoed until the next day for release and that’s when you see the national — they call them ‘initial jobless claims numbers,’” Haavind said. “So, they’re the official numbers from each state that each state reports into the U.S. Department of Labor on a weekly basis.”
Haavind continued, “The 100,000, these are just claims that have been submitted online, through our online application process and why there could be a difference is for a number of reasons,” citing that wage verification and eligibility determination are two of the factors.
The official number of initial unemployment claims for the week ending March 21 is 19,745.
Haavind explained how the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act will bolster the CDLE’s unemployment offerings.
“The two main areas that will have the most impact: One, is a category of workers who are not yet eligible for unemployment and that’s self-employed or independent contractors. The CARES Act that was signed into law last week includes that worker category as now being eligible for unemployment. The other provision within the CARES Act is an additional $600 a week on top of a claimant’s weekly benefit amount. So, in Colorado, around $400, $450 is the average weekly benefit amount and that $600 for every claimant is on top of their weekly benefit amount. Those are two pretty substantive changes and impacts to our state unemployment insurance program,” Haavind explained.
Haavind explained the CDLE is still waiting on guidance from the federal government.
“We are still eagerly awaiting guidance from the federal government both to tell us how to administer these and to tell us how we will get reimbursed,” Haavind said. “Even in the last few days, we’ve had a lot of interest, especially from self-employed workers, about when they can start filing for those benefits and, unfortunately, Colorado, like every single other state, is not yet set up to receive these new claims, but we hope to have more information as the week progresses.”
February employment numbers
The SUN received employment data from CDLE for February, which does not reflect how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected job and unemployment numbers across the state.
The unemployment rate for Archuleta County increased to 3.7 percent in February from 3.6 percent in January, with 6,640 people in the labor force and 248 of those claiming unemployment.
The unemployment information is disseminated by a press release from the CDLE.
In January, there were 6,435 people in the county’s labor force, with 238, or 3.6 percent, claiming unemployment.
The total workforce increased by 205 people over the course of the month, while the number of unemployed people increased by 10.
Looking at the February employment situation for the rest of the state, Huerfano County had the highest unemployment rate for the month at 7.9 percent, while Kiowa County had the lowest rate at 1.4 percent.
The unemployment rate in Colorado was unchanged from January at 2.5 percent.
Statewide, the number of people actively participating in the labor force in Colorado increased 5,600 from January to February, to 3,186,400.
The national unemployment rate decreased .3 percent from January to February, dropping to 3.5 percent.
The unemployment rate, labor force participation, total employment and the number of unemployed are based on a survey of households. The total employment estimate derived from this survey is intended to measure the number of people employed.
However, nonfarm payroll jobs estimates are based on a survey of business establishments and government agencies, and are intended to measure the number of jobs, not the number of people employed.
From January to February, nonfarm payroll jobs in Colorado increased by 3,100 for a total of 2,816,900, with private-sector jobs increasing by 1,000 and government jobs increasing by 2,100.
Over the month, the largest private-sector job gains were in other services, financial activities, and professional and business services.
The largest over-the-month decline was in construction.
Over the year, the number of Coloradans participating in the labor force increased by 65,700, total employment increased by 81,700 and the number of unemployed decreased by 16,000.

This story was posted on April 5, 2020.