OGDEN — With jobless claims spiking, and mindful of how complicated applying for unemployment benefits can be, Jennifer Gnagey wanted to do something to help.
"It's a lot of lines to fill out," said the adjunct economics professor at Weber State University, alluding to the Utah Department of Workforce Services application process for unemployment benefits. Indeed, she helped a friend going through the application process, and though she has a doctorate in economics, Gnagey had to turn to Google a few times to get clarification on the process.
As such, working with students in her Weber State labor economics class, she created two YouTube videos, aiming to explain the process to those not familiar with it. One, at bit.ly/3c4wCBZ, spells out out how to apply for jobless benefits, the other, at bit.ly/3e0hkjL, explains what to do after making a claim.
"We're neighbors helping neighbors," Gnagey said. The instructional videos, she went on, are meant to complement the instructions that the Department of Workforce Service, or DWS, provides applicants.
Gauging by DWS figures, there's a ballooning pool of those who could potentially use the help as COVID-19 causes the U.S. economy to slow and sputter. As of March 28, according to numbers released last week, the four-week moving average of claims for unemployment insurance in Weber County reached 1,974. That's nearly a 20-fold spike over the moving average of 102 claims just five weeks earlier.
The local increase mirrored the statewide jump in claims for unemployment benefits as the economy has slowed and layoffs have increased. The number of new jobless claims in Utah spiked to 28,560 for the week ending March 28 — after averaging 1,131 per week in 2019.
In her videos, Gnagey refers to the DWS website, directing applicants where to access applications and information on the process. If unsure whether you qualify for benefits, one of her big messages to those mulling the process, echoed by the DWS, is to apply to find out. DWS guidelines say those who lost work due to the impacts of coronavirus may be eligible for unemployment benefits, including furloughed workers. Those who experience a reduction in work hours due to the effects of coronavirus may also be eligible.
Gnagey also goes through the application process step by step, again referring to the DWS website, emphasizing that certain elements will vary from applicant to applicant. "Things are changing. Not everyone's application is going to look the same," she says in the application video.
The second video helps explain the process for making followup claims after the initial application.
Many are able to navigate the application process on their own, Gnagey said, but "a lot of people are just struggling through it."
The jump in applications for jobless benefits, at least to the degree it occurred, surprised Chuck Leonhardt, president and chief executive officer of the Ogden-Weber Chamber of Commerce. "I think it was expected, maybe not to the extent it did," he said.
Public health orders here and around the country aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus have forced many businesses to close their doors or scale back operations, resulting in a slowdown in business.
At any rate, Leonhardt and Weber County Commissioner Gage Froerer note that there are jobs to be had. Some of them are listed on the websites of the Northern Utah Economic Response Team at northernutaheconresponseteam.com and the Ogden-Weber chamber, ogdenweberchamber.com. Officials from Weber and Davis counties formed the Northern Utah Economic Response Team to help locals deal with the economic impact of coronavirus.
Even so, the numbers seeking jobless claims could continue to rise, at least in the near term, until restrictions meant to combat coronavirus are eased. "I think it will be elevated at least through the next month," Gnagey said.