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Unemployment claims skyrocket in Northeast Alabama counties, state data shows

The number of new unemployment claims filed in Calhoun County rose by more than 500 percent last week as COVID-19 spread across the state, and some surrounding counties saw an even larger increase.

That’s according to numbers released Thursday by the Alabama Department of Labor

In the week that ended March 14, some 52 people in Calhoun County filed for unemployment. There were two new unemployment claims in Cleburne County, 41 in Talladega County and 24 in St. Clair County.

In the week ending March 21, Calhoun County had 267 residents file new claims for unemployment. Cleburne’s count rose to nine, Talladega’s to 126 and St. Clair’s to 186.

The state Labor Department announced last week that it would expand eligibility for unemployment benefits for people laid off in the wake of state restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Gov. Kay Ivey and the state health board last week announced bans on sit-down service in bars and restaurants, among other restrictions. 

The state as a whole saw more than 10,000 new jobless claims last week, according to the Labor Department numbers. There were about 1,800 new claims in the past week. As late as January, statewide unemployment was under 3 percent, a record low. 

The hardest-hit industry was food service, with roughly 3,200 new unemployment claims. Perhaps surprisingly, the “health care and social assistance” sector was also among the hardest-hit industries, with more than 1,100 new jobless claims. 

Attempts to reach Labor Department officials for comment on the numbers weren’t immediately successful. 

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.