Colorado unemployment surge continues as holidays approach

More than 36,000 people filed unemployment claims in Colorado last week as jobless claims surge back to springtime levels in the shadow of the rampaging COVID-19 pandemic.

New claims for state unemployment rose for the seventh week in a row, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment reported Thursday, hitting 19,024 new claims for the week ending Dec. 5. That’s the highest total since the first full week in May, according to CDLE.

Another 17,233 Coloradans filed initial claims for the federally funded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program last week, the labor department said.

The program, launched this spring to support gig workers, self-employed people and others not eligible for traditional state unemployment insurance, will end in Colorado on Dec. 26 unless Congress moves to extend it. The 17,233 new claims filed last week is the third-highest total since the program began.

The 36,256 total unemployment claims filed in Colorado last week is a 15.9% increase over the week ending Nov. 28. It’s the seventh-highest single-week total since the pandemic began, according to Denver Post tracking. New unemployment filings are up fivefold since the first week of October.

The spike comes after state officials last month updated Colorado’s color-coded COVID dial and enacted tighter restrictions on businesses in counties deemed to have “Level Red” threats of virus spread within their borders. The restrictions include banning indoor dining in restaurants and capping capacity at retailers and personal service businesses at 25%.

Thirty-three of Colorado’s 64 counties are now in Level Red, according to the state’s COVID-19 website.

The state’s data on which industries shedding the most jobs lags new claim numbers by a few weeks, but during the week ending Nov. 21, 5,761 workers from the restaurant and accommodations industries filed claims, 43.5% of all state filings that week. Those two industries have been hardest hit by the pandemic since the beginning and, after bringing some jobs back during the summer and fall, are faltering again under tighter rules.

In total, 876,440 initial unemployment claims have been filed in Colorado since the onset of the pandemic. That’s a number equivalent to more than a quarter of the state’s active workforce.

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