Unemployment claims have skyrocketed in Brooklyn as the borough continues to deal with the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
A staggering 43,558 Brooklynites filed for unemployment benefits during the seven-day period that ended on March 28, dramatically eclipsing the 1,603 claims filed in the borough during the same week in 2019 — and officials fear that the “economic crisis” will only worsen in the weeks ahead.
“We’re only seeing the initial numbers. They will get worse, unfortunately,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a March 27 press conference. “The fact is that people are being hit real hard.”
Statewide during the same period, 369,025 New Yorkers filed for unemployment benefits, according to Department of Labor statistics.
Painting the grim reality of the situation, the city’s chief executive invoked harrowing comparisons to the Great Depression.
“In the Great Depression, there was unemployment as high as 25 percent. In this city, in this country, we’re seeing that level begin to be approached,” de Blasio said.
In an effort to deal with the massive influx of new claims, legislators in the nation’s capital enacted the CARES Act — a $2 trillion emergency stimulus package that includes $250 billion in funds for unemployment programs in the United States, as well as $1,200 cash payments for all Americans earning less than $75,000, among other things.
Many of the newly-unemployed Brooklynites had previously held jobs in service industries, which have been largely shut down by a statewide ban on non-essential in-person businesses — which shuttered dining at restaurants and bars.
Prior to the pandemic, unemployment had been steadily falling in Kings County for several years, leading the unemployment rate in February to be just 3.5 percent. The Department of Labor is in the process of calculating the current rate.
In the meantime, as many workers find themselves out of a job, New York State has instituted measures to relieve mortgage payments for financially burdened homeowners.
“If you are not working, if you’re working only part-time, we’re going to have the banks and financial institutions waive mortgage payments for 90 days,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo at a press conference on March 19.
That decision led many Brooklyn legislators to call for a moratorium on rent payments — a measure that Queens State Sen. Michael Gianaris introduced into Albany’s upper chamber on March 23.
“I’ve never received this many emails from constituents with the exact same request within such a short period of time until today,” tweeted Bushwick Senator Julia Salazar. “All emails requesting that I support a rent suspension, and most mentioning [Gianaris’] bill.”
Fellow freshman legislator Zellnor Myrie also threw his support behind the proposal, arguing that far too many people have recently lost income to expect them to make rent payments.
“I’m supporting @SenGianaris’ bill to #CancelRent because if you just lost your job during this public health crisis, how can you be expected to pay rent? This bill, along with relief on property tax and utility bills, is urgently needed,” Myrie tweeted.
However, Governor Cuomo has thrown cold water on the idea, arguing that the moratorium on evictions solves the problem of rent — although that ban will eventually be lifted, and tenants will still owe accumulated payments.