LANSING — Nearly 69,000 people in Michigan filed initial claims for unemployment last week, bringing the state's seven-week total in the coronavirus pandemic to more than 1.3 million.
The number of new claims dropped for the fourth straight week — it hit 388,000 the week ending April 4 — but still approached the weekly high recorded in the Great Depression, according to federal data released Thursday. The state Unemployment Insurance Agency has said more than 1.1 million jobless have been paid benefits.
To expedite claims for tens of thousands of people who have been waiting in a queue for help, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer late Wednesday issued an order letting the deluged agency review only an individual's most recent job separation to determine the benefit level.
The coronavirus and the steps taken to slow it from spreading, including the closure of many businesses, have had a devastating effect on the economy. More than a quarter of Michigan's workforce is out of work.
Sarah May lost her job as a bartender in mid-March.
"My spending has definitely been cut down a lot. So, it's not like I needed a ton of money or even the amount that I was making before," May said. "When we need groceries, I don't have to write my list and then go through it again, highlight the things that are a priority and take my calculator with me to make sure I have enough while I'm walking through the store."
The 38-year-old from Oakland County's White Lake Township spent over a month dealing with the unemployment agency. She is the primary caregiver for her 16-year-old daughter with disabilities.
"The stress has been insane," May said, who added she often tries to care for her daughter while dialing the unemployment office.
May, who is married to a Hamtramck firefighter, finally was approved for benefits and recently received her first payment.
"It's much, much easier to breathe now that we have the unemployment," she said.