NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A few months ago, state lawmakers would tout the record low 3.3 percent unemployment rate in Tennessee, but now COVID-19 precautions have taken the number to its highest ever at 14.7 percent.
Those expected record numbers for April reflect the brunt of shutting down a variety of businesses ranging from restaurants, to retailers and manufacturing.
Behind the numbers remain a lot of Tennesseans who have yet to receive unemployment benefits. It’s been an issue that’s gone right to the top of Tennessee government.
At least 50,000 Tennesseans—perhaps more by some estimates—continue calling, emailing, and wondering when they are not getting unemployment benefits.
“I have called the department of labor I think 40 times at this point,” says Aaron Lake of Murfreesboro who was furloughed from his job as a clothing retail sales manager in late March, “I have not been able to reach a live person. I think a lot of people have been going through it as well.”
Those not getting unemployment checks like Aaron—who filed on March 5—can’t understand it.
“I had no idea that once I did file for unemployment it would take this long,” he told News 2 on the same day the record 14.7 percent jobless rate was released by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
At the governor’s COVID-19 briefings for more than a month now, the state labor department commissioner has pleaded for patience from people like Aaron, but he says hundreds of people hired and learning a high curve are making things better.
“It’s not just a people problem, but an expertise problem and now that we have a lot of experience even if its a short period of time, we are able to build that expertise to help us go further and faster than what we are doing,” said labor department commissioner Jeff McCord this week.
The unemployment issue is a family matter for Aaron with a sister laid off as well. It shows how fickled getting jobless benefits can be in Tennessee.
“I live with my sister. She actually did file for unemployment and hers went through successfully. She filed after me actually,” added Aaron who said he had a job interview scheduled after speaking with News 2.
The brother and sister, for now, share the one unemployment check while waiting for the second one.
Questions from people like Aaron have often been taken up directly by lawmakers with inquiries to the department of labor.
Legislative Democrats are taking it a step further with a letter to Governor Lee. Some of their questions about unemployment benefits include whose being helped, how many, and why its taking so long.