Virus Outbreak Unemployment

People wait in line for help with unemployment benefits at the One-Stop Career Center, Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Las Vegas. Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation and its partner organizations, like the One-Stop Career Center, have seen an increase in traffic due to the coronavirus. (AP Photo/John Locher)

WASHINGTON — Just a couple of weeks ago, Erika Vega hoped her temp job at a cafeteria would soon become permanent. But instead, the viral outbreak shut down the building where she worked and left her wondering where her next paycheck will come from.

Like millions of Americans and people around the world, the viral outbreak has left Vega in financial limbo, without income as her bills pile up. The U.S. and global economies have come to a shuddering stop, unleashing a wave of layoffs that is much larger and moving much faster than job losses in previous downturns. They are swamping state unemployment benefits systems and leaving many Americans still working anxious about whether they will be next.

Vega, 45, worked as a food preparer and dishwasher at a lower Manhattan office tower until last Thursday. The company that owned the cafeteria liked her work and said they wanted to hire her permanently. But she was still a temp when the building closed and her staffing agency says it has no more work available as the city has shut down bars and restaurants.

"The people who worked for the company get paid to stay home, but I don't," she said. "Everybody wants to be safe and be at home but at the same time, we have bills that need to be paid."

Tens of thousands of laid-off workers have already flooded state unemployment websites across the country to apply for jobless benefits. In the week ending March 14, the number of people seeking unemployment aid soared by 70,000 to 281,000, the Labor Department said Thursday.

That figure is still low historically, but it may soon surpass the record high of 650,000 in January 2009.

Many states are already reporting big increases in benefit applications this week, which weren't included in Thursday's figures.

In Ohio, more than 48,000 people applied for jobless benefits just this Monday and Tuesday. That's up from 1,825 in the same two days the prior week.

And in neighboring Pennsylvania, about 70,000 people sought unemployment aid on Tuesday, six times the total for the entire previous week. A flood of claims has crashed unemployment claims websites in New York, New Jersey and states across the nation.

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