Measured by COVID-19 cases, New York’s coronavirus crisis has been overwhelmingly concentrated downstate—but upstate has hardly been immune to the consequences of the widespread economic shutdown ordered to contain the spread of the virus.

More than 1.9 million New York State residents have filed for unemployment insurance from mid-March through May 7—fully 15 times the number of new unemployment filings during the same nine-week period in 2019, according to state Labor Department data released yesterday.


This is an installment in a special series of #NYCoronavirus chronicles by Empire Center analysts, focused on New York’s state and local policy response to the Coronavirus pandemic.


The total claims filed during the period would equate to roughly 21 percent of the state resident labor force as of March. In other words, the true unemployment rate in New York as of April was probably close to 20 percent—although the official rate, when released next week, is likely to be lower due to data-gathering glitches and limitations.

As shown in the following table from the state Labor Department’s latest research report, no region has been unscathed.

screen-shot-2020-05-15-at-9-44-29-am-4526024

Unsurprisingly, the largest joblessness surges have been seen in New York City, Long Island and the Hudson Valley, where 1.4 million residents filed for unemployment. These regions accounted for about three-quarters of the statewide increase in unemployment filings on a year-over-year basis.

In upstate New York, which has sustained much more limited COVID-19 outbreaks, the Capital Region has had the biggest unemployment surge since mid-March with a total of 85,200 new filings, up 1,312 percent over last year’s total. The least-worst increase was in the North Country, where the economy is small and more heavily government-dependent. But even that increase, at 876 percent, was far beyond any jobless surge on record.

Cuomo yesterday issued an updated executive order allowing the limited reopening of businesses and public activities in the Finger Lakes, Central New York, Mohawk Valley, Southern Tier, and North Country regions. However, given the tight “phase one” restrictions of Cuomo’s New York State on PAUSE order, it seems unlikely that more than a small share of the 293,000 residents of those regions who filed for unemployment will return to work in the near future.

About the Author

E.J. McMahon

Edmund J. McMahon is a senior fellow at the Empire Center.

Read more by E.J. McMahon

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