The federal government has ordered the Washington and Oregon state unemployment offices to stop publishing daily claim totals before the United States Department of Labor can publish its regularly scheduled weekly report.
The mandate follows a huge spike in unemployment linked to COVID-19. State officials, responding to an extraordinarily high number of media and public inquiries, released quick and detailed figures illustrating the scale of the crisis.
The Oregon Employment Department said on Wednesday that unemployment insurance claims “went from about 800 on Sunday March 15 to 18,500 on Tuesday March 17”.
On the same day, the Washington State Department of Employee Safety revealed that its website “had 280,000 users Monday and Tuesday, with more than 500,000 users in just two days.” Typically, we expect 30,000 users during this period. “
The federal government intervened quickly to stem the spread of details at the state level. Nick Demerice, spokesperson for the Washington office, said that shortly after the state departments’ announcements, “there was a letter of clarification from the Department of Labor.”
“It reminded people of the timing of communicating and publishing these numbers,” he said.
The New York Times reported Thursday evening. He was sent to state labor officials across the country and told state departments that they could only tackle the spike in unemployment by using generalities. He also requested that they maintain specific numbers under embargo until March 26, when the US Department of Labor will publish its regular weekly report.
State departments generally only publish unemployment claims figures every seven days, examining the previous week (the most recent report, published on Friday, covered the period from March 8 to March 14).
The information released on Wednesday was outside the usual standards for public disclosure of unemployment services.
In response to the letter from the Department of Labor, Suzi LeVine, commissioner of the Washington unemployment office, issued a statement explaining why she felt it was necessary to release the dark state data early.
“Although I appreciate their reminder about standard operating procedure and recognize that the (US Department of Labor) has confirmed that we can talk in general about the magnitude of what we are facing, what we are experiencing now is all except standard, “wrote LeVine.
“The data we have on new claims can help us plan our responses, project impact and meet the needs of our state,” she added. “We are currently evaluating our efforts to disseminate information to best meet the needs of our state.”
Why lock information?
Demerice said there could be several reasons behind the federal government’s request to lock information at the state level.
“Our data specialists will tell you they want to make sure the data is correct, tabulated and verified and double-checked,” said Demerice. “I have also heard discussions about how this information could influence the financial markets.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Labor told CNN On Friday, because unemployment demand statistics can affect political decisions and the financial markets, “it is important to ensure that information is communicated in a consistent and fair manner”.
The weekly report released Friday by the Department of Labor shows that new jobless claims filed in Washington between March 8 and March 14 increased 116%.
Data released by state offices this week suggests that the situation has worsened since then.
Unemployment officials in Washington and Oregon also told the Columbian on Tuesday that their offices are working to process claims for unemployment due to the coronavirus epidemic.
Gail Krumenauer, communications manager for the Oregon Department of Unemployment, said the department was working to consolidate its online server to handle the huge increase in candidate traffic. About 70,000 residents of Clark County work in Oregon.
“We are also actively working to supplement our existing staff at these contact centers so that we have more capacity,” said Krumenauer.
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