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Fearing market impact, Trump administration asks states to postpone unemployment data

https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/fearing-market-impact-trump-administration-asks-states-postpone/story?id=69710991

As coronavirus cases skyrocket across the country, so do unemployment claims.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor and Industry announced on Monday unemployment application waivers for workers impacted by COVID-19. In the span of two days, the department received over 121,000 unemployment applications.

When asked for an updated number on Thursday, however, the DLI declined to further disclose any unemployment figures.

“The number of unemployment applications are now embargoed by the United States Department of Labor,” DLI Secretary Gerard “Jerry” Oleksiak told reporters.

The United States Department of Labor is asking states not to disclose any more unemployment data – claiming the information is an important economic indicator that could potentially impact the financial markets. The DOL plans to release the unemployment figures late next week.

“State Unemployment Insurance data is regularly embargoed until the national numbers are published on Thursday morning and states are asked not to share their data until that time,” said a DOL spokesperson. “As a leading economic indicator that has the potential to impact policy decisions and financial markets, it is important to ensure the state Unemployment Insurance data is communicated in a consistent and fair manner.”

The Labor Department’s attempt to release the states’ numbers in bulk is unprecedented, one that could lead to the publication of a large unemployment claims number next week that shakes the markets even more, according to Beth Ann Bovino, U.S. chief economist at S&P Global.

“It’s a new move,” she said. “This number could be huge — and if there’s no easy way to do a comparison, that could just add more confusion to the number that is ultimately released on Thursday.”

The Labor Department did not respond to additional questions concerning the unprecedented nature of this embargo.

It does not appear, however, that all state labor departments have been kept in the loop. Departments in California and other states told ABC News they have not been advised of any embargo by the Department of Labor, while departments in other states had already released their numbers when the email from the Department of Labor arrived.

As of Thursday afternoon, for example, 72,245 Minnesotans applied for unemployment, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. At this time of year, the department usually only processes 500 new applications per day, according to a department spokesperson.

From the publicly available data that has already been made available, ABC News can report that at least 375,870 unemployment claims have been filed across several states since Monday, up significantly from last week’s countrywide 281,000 claims reported by the Labor Department.

Other indicators in other states are also pointing to a significant spike in jobless claims.

On Tuesday, both New York and New Jersey’s unemployment application websites crashed due to the sheer traffic volume. The New York State Department of Labor has since added server capacity. As of Thursday, the department’s website is averaging 250,000 logins per day — a 400 percent increase over the normal average.

“These numbers, much like the virus, are multiplying quickly,” said Bovino.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity will be following the Labor Department’s guidelines for releasing unemployment figures, but a DEO spokesperson told ABC News the department is “seeing historic increases” in applications.

“Our call volume Monday through Wednesday was more than 76,000 calls,” said Tiffany Vause, director of Communications and External Affairs for the DEO, “and last week we had just shy of 28,000 calls for the entire week.”

The Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation has yet to release its numbers, but on Wednesday, a leading labor union for hospitality workers said it expects 80% to 90% of its 300,000 members to be out of work due to the outbreak.

“While I understand the intent of the government might be to calm markets — I don’t think markets will be fooled by any possible attempt to control the release of the data,” Bovino told ABC News. “In fact, these actions may be seen as an attempt to control the message, which could very well backfire.”

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