Rise in unemployment claims could be attributed to multiple causes

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Nearly one million Americans filed new unemployment claims last week, based on data released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Labor. The numbers also show a spike across Tennessee, and in our region.

The state saw 21,954 new claims last week. Total claims in Tennessee sit at 58,945. In Knox County, 2,859 people were earning unemployment benefits a couple weeks ago. Last week, that number grew by 1,059.

University of Tennessee, Knoxville Associate Professor of Economics, Marianne Wanamaker, calls the numbers concerning. “We don’t want to see want to see unemployment claims ticking up at this point in the recession,” she said.

Wanamaker said economists are looking into three factors: A rise in COVID-19 cases, the impact of increased federal unemployment benefits, and the time of year.

Sevier County is a great example of the third factor. The county had 735 ongoing unemployment claims reported before prior to last week. In a few days, that number nearly doubled, when 700 more people applied for help.

“That signals to me that a lot of what’s going on in Sevier County is seasonal. It’s the end of the big shopping season, so a lot of people are going onto UI, not because business activity in Sevierville is declining for other reasons,” she added.

While she believes the stimulus checks and the $300 weekly unemployment supplement from the federal government will help, she noted the only long-term solution for the economy is ending the pandemic.

“If Congress raises those payments from $600 to $2,000, that will certainly reduce some pain in specific households that are really struggling, but it’s not going to solve our overall labor market issues.”

As to whether the violence at the U.S. Capitol has had any impact on the stock market, or labor market, she noted the impact so far has been minimal so far, but added: “What last week brought up was the prospect that in the post-inauguration days, weeks, and months, we could face a lot of uncertainty. that could really have a detrimental affect on the way the economy functions.”

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