Local unemployment claims down, positive sign of recovery, ODU researcher says


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – As part of a trend over the past two months, initial unemployment claims in Hampton Roads have improved to their lowest level since the start of the pandemic, says a researcher with Old Dominion University.

“It’s definitely a sign of a positive recovery. We’re moving in the right direction where we should be going,” said research associate Dominique Johnson, of ODU’s Dragas Center for Economic Analysis and Policy.

Her data shows both initial and continued claims have decreased about 40% over the last two months, with just 1,200 new claims filed last week.

“This is a marked improvement from the nearly 30,000 initial claims filed in a single week that we were seeing in the peak in April 2020,” Johnson said.

Although initial claims are down, response time from Richmond continues to drag or even be non-existent.

A Newport News woman has filed every week since January, and says she hasn’t seen a penny of the $7,200 she has coming from the Virginia Employment Commission.

“I haven’t been able to pay rent,” said Keisha Williams-Butler. “I’ve had to borrow money from people to even keep my car. People have almost taken my car from me. I’ve pretty much had to beg my way to stay alive.”

Cynthia Martinez of Virginia Beach was getting benefits until April, when they abruptly stopped. She says her eligibility runs for several more months and figures she’s owed about $5,000 and counting. Martinez says she can’t reach anyone at the VEC to find out what’s going on.

“How are people supposed to make ends meet?” Martinez asks, after the pandemic wiped out her job as a school custodian.

Johnson says with fewer new claims, response time should improve.

“The more (the claim numbers) come down and the more they’re able to work out all those kinks in the system, we should see faster response rates.”

Hampton Roads tourism has recovered about 23% of jobs from a year ago, but is still 15% below 2019.

“That is the hardest hit sector, and the one sector that has recovered the least amount of jobs,” Johnson said.

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