South Dakota unemployment claims surge as virus clobbers economy

Published: Mar. 26, 2020 at 2:39 PM CDT
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While it is too early to nail down the economic impact of COVID-19 on South Dakota, there are hints that the hit will be massive.

Last week, March 16-22, the state had 1,703 initial weekly claims for unemployment benefits. The week before that total was just 190. Gov. Kristi Noem says the state could experience a week-to-week increase of about 1,500 claims.

“We are seeing almost that number of unemployment claims per day, this week. So expect big, huge numbers next week and that people signing up for unemployment because, literally, our economic in this state has dropped to almost nothing,” the governor explained.

Most of the claims were filed by workers who have never been on unemployment before the coronavirus wiped out their jobs.

The economic squeeze is pushing the federal government to toy with easing nationwide guidelines meant to stem the coronavirus outbreak.

In a letter Thursday to the nation's governors, President Donald Trump says the new guidelines are meant to enable state and local leaders to make “decisions about maintaining, increasing, or relaxing social distancing and other measures they have put in place.”

“I know the president is working on a plan for the country,” Noem said. “I’m focused on South Dakota and what I’m seeing here, using the facts and the data that I have available to me; and I really do believe, the plan we put forward is the best. In fact, I’ve heard other governors that have gone out and shut down businesses or issued stay-at-home reports now questioning that was the best public health plan.”

Trump has said he would like to see the economy return to pre-virus activity by Easter Sunday, April 12.

“I do not think South Dakota will be back to normal for many months,” Noem admitted. “So those who might think by Easter things will be back to normal … I don’t want to discourage them but I want to be very clear and honest with them that we will be operating differently for many, many weeks to come yet in South Dakota. We can’t stop this virus. We can slow it down.”