In the week ending May 2, another 24,693 Iowans applied for unemployment insurance. That brings the total new claims for unemployment insurance, over the last seven weeks, to 285,741.
Iowa’s insured unemployment rate (the share of the labor force receiving unemployment benefits, which does not include this week’s new claims) is now 11 percent. Since mid-March almost 1 in 5 Iowa workers (more than 18 percent of the non-farm labor force) have filed an unemployment claim.
This total does not include those who have dropped out of the labor force. It does not include those unable to access our overwhelmed unemployment insurance application system.
And it does not include those discouraged from even applying by Iowa Workforce Development’s chilling “get back to work” directive. The outcry against that directive — so clearly at odds with both Iowa law and the unemployment crisis at hand — has forced IWD to soften its tone. The “FAQ” for workers on IWD’s website now acknowledges that unsafe working conditions, and the failure of employers to provide adequate protection, constitute valid reasons for leaving a job and claiming benefits.
As the jobs crisis deepens, we need to remember that unemployment insurance is intended as a safety net, as a means of sustaining incomes through periods of both personal misfortune and broader economic troubles.
We are at a moment when going back to work poses grave public health risks, and when the federal government has stepped up to cover most of the costs. Under these conditions, it is in our best interests to be generous in the determination of eligibility for benefits — and to let Iowa workers displaced by this crisis make the right decision for themselves, for their families, and for their communities.