‘Gig’ Workers Fuel 200% Spike in First-Time Jobless Claims 

    More than 109,000 Maryland residents filed initial claims for unemployment benefits last week, nearly three times the number of workers who sought first-time benefits the week before.

    The increase was fueled by an expansion of jobless benefits eligibility to include independent contractors, “gig” workers,” and the self-employed. The number also includes those who had exhausted their unemployment benefits and have become eligible for an additional 13 weeks of compensation.

    Just over 62,076 Marylanders filed for “regular” unemployment compensation. In addition, 47,187 people filed Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or Pandemic Unemployment Emergency Compensation claims, two provisions of the CARES Act, the federal response to the COVID-19 epidemic.

    This was the first time that unemployed workers in those categories were allowed to file claims for benefits in Maryland. Twenty-three states are now including these figures in their weekly totals.

    Nearly 3.2 million Americans filed jobless claims last week, the federal Labor Department reported.

    Wall Street appeared to shrug off the grim news, with stock indexes posting gains of nearly 2% in early trading on Thursday.

    The 109,263 first-time claims for jobless benefits in Maryland last week outpaced the 108,508 residents who filed during the week ending April 4, the prior high-water mark for pandemic-related unemployment claims.

    In all 490,875 Marylanders have filed unemployment claims since mid-March.

    The spike in Maryland is likely also due in part to improvements in the state’s online unemployment claims system, BEACON One-Step, which faltered in its initial rollout.

    Since many workers haven’t been eligible for unemployment compensation until recently, the report released on Thursday reflects a “pent-up demand” for benefits, said John Johnson, CEO of Edgeworth Analytics, a Washington, D.C.-based firm that conducts analysis of economic data.

    “All those people [who] were just waiting could now apply,” he said. “That represents a month or more of pent-up demand for a group of people that weren’t previously eligible.”

    Johnson said the federal jobless report for April, which comes out on Friday, will shed more light on the industries hardest hit by the downturn.

    Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report. 

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    Bruce DePuyt
    Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. He's a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.