FARGO — Jobless claims in North Dakota soared to nearly 14,000 over a recent nine-day period, setting a grim record and underscoring the rising cost of statewide efforts to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Gov. Doug Burgum, who released the jobless numbers, said the spike in unemployment was unprecedented, but so too are steps underway to help people facing job loss, including a federal stimulus package.

President Donald Trump signed Friday, March 27, a $2 trillion aid package designed to help American businesses and households reeling from the economic fallout created by the shutting down of much of the country's business activity.

"People who have had a job loss related to this (COVID-19 pandemic) may find that there are not one, but multiple ways that they could have their income restored," Burgum said, adding it's anticipated the stimulus package may include loans to small businesses that would be contingent on companies retaining employees.

According to numbers on the Job Service North Dakota website, 5,971 jobless claims were filed in the state during the week that ended March 21, the latest one-week period for which official jobless numbers were available. The week before that 521 claims were filed, and the week before that the number was 517.

The largest chunk of the 5,971 jobless claims filed last week, or about 2,058 cases, were associated with accommodation and food service jobs, followed by health care and social assistance jobs at 830.

Jobless claims filed in other categories included: 480 in construction; 423 in mining, quarrying, oil and gas extraction; 382 in retail trade; 350 in other service industries; 231 in transportation and warehousing; and 219 in administrative and waste services.

Of the 5,971 jobless claims filed last week, 1,611 (27%) were in Cass County.

'They're humans, they're people'

The Job Service website contains a list of companies that have recently reported layoffs.

The list is not believed to be inclusive of all layoffs occurring, but one company on the list, metal products fabricator Steffes, reported that 96 workers were let go this week. The downsizing occurred at Steffes plants in Grand Forks and Dickinson.

"Those people that were released were productive, hard working, and they have contributed a great deal to our company over the years," said Paul Eidenschink, co-president at Steffes.

Eidenschink said this week's move was prompted by the impact the coronavirus has had on demand for Steffes' products as well as the rapid decline in the price of oil. "We certainly hope this situation is short-term and temporary," he said.

"We are very concerned about the impact it has on the families of those employees who were affected," Eidenschink added. "They're not just employees to us. They're humans, they're people."

Unemployment numbers for Minnesota for March have yet to be officially tallied, but state officials said more than 300,000 people had applied for the state unemployment insurance program since March 16.

In February, before Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz issued executive orders that curtailed business activity and essentially told most Minnesotans to stay home, the unemployment rate showed a dip of one-tenth of a percentage point, settling at 3.1%

The national unemployment rate fell slightly in February to 3.5%

However, the U.S. Labor Department issued a report on Thursday, March 26, that provided a glimpse of the toll the coronavirus pandemic is taking on the national economy.

The report showed that 3.3 million people filed for unemployment last week, breaking a record that had stood since October 1982, when 695,000 so-called initial claims were filed, according to a report in the New York Times.

Experts said the employment picture could sour even more when the next unemployment numbers are released on Thursday, April 2, the Times report said.

How to file for unemployment

Sarah Arntson, a spokeswoman for Job Service North Dakota, said people considering filing for unemployment should be aware that certain aspects of filing that may have discouraged people in the past have been waived.

She said that includes a rule that had required people filing for unemployment to show they were actively looking for employment.

More information about jobs in North Dakota and filing for unemployment can be found at www.ndjobs.com. The frequently asked questions page under the site's "Home" tab has answers specific to COVID-19.

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