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Oklahoma unemployment claims skyrocket; state is on pace for 10,000 in one week

David Dishman
Gannett Oklahoma

Oklahomans are filing for unemployment benefits in droves as layoffs continue throughout the state largely due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.

The state could surpass 10,000 unemployment claims by the end of the week. It had already received nearly 6,000 by the end of day Wednesday.

That would be the most initial claims in nearly three decades, as Oklahoma saw 9,778 claims received in one week during January 1991.

Businesses in Oklahoma are being affected by the global pandemic. Many are closing their doors to consumers to slow the spread of COVID-19, in turn forcing rounds of layoffs.

March 11 was when the coronavirus threat became realized for many Oklahomans. That night a game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz was canceled after Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus.

In the week since, political leaders have urged “social distancing” as dozens of confirmed cases have been reported in Oklahoma.

Unemployment claims filed Tuesday surpassed the weekly totals in each of the past three weeks.

There were 1,994 claims filed Tuesday, compared to an average total of 1,621 during the three weeks prior.

Wednesday the state took 3,146 claims.

Oklahomans are being asked to file claims online. The state Employment Security Commission's home page can be accessed for general information or claimants can jump straight into the application.

Individuals who have difficulty using the online application due to language barriers or handicaps may call 1-800-555-1554 for assistance in filing claims.

Individuals can also call with questions about filing, but the OESC advises there can be long wait times. The online application is preferred.

The extent of layoffs and unemployment claims remains to be seen. Oklahoma’s unemployment rate was relatively low entering the pandemic, at 3.3% in January. This rate was one of the lowest in its series history, which dates back to 1976.

For those applying to receive unemployment benefits, Oklahoma has one of the most solvent trust funds in the nation for use. The fund has more than $1 billion saved.

In Oklahoma’s year with the highest volume of payouts, which came amid the great recession nearly a decade ago, the state paid out more than $508 million.

The state therefore has enough saved to possibly weather two full years at that amount.