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Over 1,900 county workers have filed for unemployment

With many businesses closing because of the coronavirus, the number of individuals applying for unemployment has risen.

According to data from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, 1,952 Mower County workers have applied for unemployment since March 15.

That number accounts for 9.4 percent of the county’s 2019 annual labor force.

“I’ve definitely seen a sharp reduction in the amount of jobs available in the area,” said Mike Postma, career planner and employment outreach specialist for Workforce Development, Inc. “Normally I see about 100 jobs posted. Last week, it was about 30, and some of them were from some of the same companies hiring for different positions. I’m guessing the jobs have dropped about two-thirds.”

Nationwide, the ranks of Americans put out of work by the coronavirus ballooned Thursday to more than 20 million in just four weeks, an unprecedented collapse fueling widening protests and propelling President Donald Trump’s push to relax the nation’s social distancing guidelines.

The government said 5.2 million more people applied for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the running total to about 22 million out of a U.S. work force of roughly 159 million — easily the worst stretch of U.S. job losses on record. So far, 464,137 Minnesotans have applied for unemployment benefits. Hennepin County has the most with 112,377 residents (15.8 percent) applying for benefits, but from a percentage standpoint, Cook County in northeast Minnesota is the most affected with 27.4 percent of its 2019 annual labor force applying for benefits.

Some economists say the national unemployment rate could reach 20 percent in April, the highest since the Great Depression.

But while the numbers look grim, Postma pointed at that there are still organizations that are hiring, noting that Hormel and Quality Pork Processors are actively recruiting, including the opening of a QPP hiring center next to Pizza Hut in Austin. Long-term senior care facilities are also looking for people, as are some food outlets like Hy-Vee, who are looking for temporary COVID-19 help.

“There definitely is work out there for those who are looking for it,” Postma said, adding that Austin Workforce Development posts jobs from hiring businesses every Monday on its Facebook page. He also encouraged businesses who are hiring to ask about posting on the Austin Workforce Development Facebook page.

As for those who have less hours or have lost their job because of COVID-19, Postma said they should definitely apply for unemployment insurance at uimn.org.

Postma also noted that Minnesota was among the first states to put the extra $600 allotted for those drawing unemployment through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act into effect.

The Legislature also approved the 13-week extension to unemployment. Those that have reached the end of unemployment insurance can still apply for the extension.

For small business owners and independent contractors affected by COVID-19, Postma said a new system has been put in place for them to draw unemployment benefits.

“The tricky part is that the system has not been set-up for them because it is based on payroll,” he said. “The state is encouraging people to go on that website and apply; even if you’re eligible for $0, you can still get your name into the system so when it does get going, you can start getting it.”

“It’s a little frustrating because it is starting from scratch,” he added.

With the new eligibility of small business owners and independent contractors, Postma said there could be an increase in unemployment insurance numbers.

“We’re probably going to see numbers we’ve never seen before,” he said. “It’s good that they’ll be getting something, but they’re going to be pretty scary numbers. I wouldn’t be surprised to see 15-20 percent unemployment numbers in our region.”

— The Associated Press contributed to this story