Ruta Smith file photo

More than 180,000 people in South Carolina have applied for unemployment benefits since mid-March than filed in all of 2019, a stark reminder of the crushing economic impact of physical distancing measures in South Carolina to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 infection.
[content-2] South Carolina tallied just over 121,000 initial unemployment claims in all of 2019, averaging about 2,300 per week, according to U.S. Department of Labor figures.

Unemployment numbers released Thursday show 85,018 people filed claims for the week ending April 4, bringing the total for the past three weeks to 180,928, according to the state Department of Employment and Workforce. The increase represents a more than a 4,000 percent increase compared to the week ending March 14.

However, that figure does not account for those who are jobless and have been unable to apply for benefits during that time, citing technical issues or administrative slowdowns.

Since March 15, the agency says it has paid out more than $18 million in benefits, which max out at $326 per week per recipient. Call center staff has been quadrupled over the past two weeks, the agency reports.

Horry and Greenville counties saw the largest numbers of applicants last week, with the hard-hit Myrtle Beach area reporting more than 10,000 people seeking benefits for the first time. In Charleston County, 7,315 applied during that period, slightly down from the week before.

In total numbers, the number of unemployment claims over the past three weeks is not comparable to any historical data available, eclipsing significant slowdowns like the 2008 recession, the Sept. 11 attacks, and devastating hurricanes.

Additional federal benefits should kick in over the coming weeks, adding $600 to unemployment checks under provisions in the unprecedented $2 trillion coronavirus recovery package intended to help stabilize a national economy stunned from widespread shutdowns and uncertainty.
[content-3] As government leaders, public health officials pleaded with residents to avoid contact with others and be mindful of the risk of infecting themselves or people they come into contact with, businesses began closing their doors and shifting operations in mid-March, when filings began to increase.

A March 17 order from Gov. Henry McMaster that mandated restaurants close for dine-in service triggered thousands of layoffs of food industry staff statewide.

After initially resisting a more aggressive “stay-at-home” order, McMaster eventually released a list of non-essential businesses that would be ordered to be closed beginning on April 1. This week, he expanded that order into a mandatory “home or work” directive intended to reinforce the necessity of maintaining social distancing to help slow the spread of the disease.

As of Thursday, 2,792 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in South Carolina, claiming the lives of 67. Health experts predict that the disease will peak in late April, but it’s unknown when economic activity will resume at normal levels in South Carolina or across the nation.

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