All that said, help is on the way — a lot of it. People who have lost their jobs will get an additional $600 per week on top of the usual unemployment benefits, and benefits will be available to lots of people who wouldn’t normally qualify, such as people who were self-employed and people who had to quit their jobs because of the coronavirus crisis. State unemployment offices are working to get those benefits in place and when they are issued they will be available retroactively. The government is also taking unprecedented steps to encourage small- and medium-size firms to keep their employees on the payroll — offering them low-interest loans and then forgiving the balance of those loans to the extent they are spent on payroll and other necessary ongoing expenses like rent.
The former policy is designed to make unemployment less painful while the latter is designed to actually reduce the unemployment rate. But both of these approaches face logistical issues. Even before the new law passed, different states were handling the crush of unemployment claims with differing levels of deftness. For the week ending March 21, some states showed increases in new unemployment claims in the range of 3,000 percent, while others were closer to 200 percent. You shouldn’t assume this variation was mostly because the labor-market impact of the crisis has been geographically uneven. One of the states that had a relatively small increase was California, and since the state had extensive stay-at-home orders during that period, that’s a sign of slow claim processing, not an especially good employment situation. Emily Peck has a useful piece for HuffPost explaining how state unemployment offices are struggling to implement the congressionally approved expansion of unemployment benefits. In Washington State, for example, benefits will not be available until at least April 18, though they will be paid retroactively at that point in time.