Elvert Barns/Creative Commons
Elvert Barns/Creative Commons

A surge in COVID-19 cases could push unemployment rates even higher in the coming weeks.

Arizona’s unemployment rate is quickly creeping up again, leaving more than 288,000 without a job ahead of the approaching holidays.

The state initially looked as though it was recovering from the hit of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the unemployment rate grew to a seasonally-adjusted 7.9% in October, according to the Arizona Office of Economic Opportunity

The rise in unemployment came after the state saw a brief reprieve in August and September with 6.3% and 6.6%, respectively.

While startling, the single-digit rates are still a significant improvement to the 13.4% reported in April when much of the state’s economy was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic and thousands of Arizonans filed for unemployment benefits. 

In contrast, unemployment rates lingered around 4% for much of 2019.

A surge in COVID cases could push numbers for November and the following months even higher. Officials fear the number of cases will likely grow worse as people travel for the holidays.

Rates for November won’t be available until mid-December. 

The state’s unemployment system has been overwhelmed with claims throughout much of the year, with unemployed Arizonans left waiting three to four weeks to start receiving benefits. Arizona has one of the least generous unemployment systems in the country, providing only $240 per week for a monthly total of $960—an amount that’s often lower than most people’s rent. 

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Laid-off workers did get some help from federal programs that significantly supplemented unemployment compensation. But federal relief programs expired in July and August, with another slated to end on Dec. 26, leaving an estimated 12 million additional people nationwide heading into 2021 with little to no aid. 

Plans for another stimulus bill look grim as Congress is on Thanksgiving recess. As they do, numerous Arizonans are at risk of losing their own homes.

Nonprofit and mutual aid groups have since stepped up to fill the gaps in aid. APS and other companies have attempted to soften the blow by placing a moratorium on all service disconnections and waiving all late fees through the end of the year.