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The state jobs agency on Thursday released monthly data for February and said the numbers that show the wrenching halt to business and spike in joblessness in Minnesota won’t be seen until May.

The February data, as if from another era now, showed Minnesota’s labor force at nearly its full potential, with near record-low unemployment and adding very few jobs.

But in the past two weeks, as people scattered and stopped going out to slow the spread of coronavirus, thousands of employers have been forced to close and lay off workers. By Thursday, the number of unemployment claims since March 15 in Minnesota reached 182,000, far surpassing the 110,000 Minnesotans who were officially out of work in February.

The new data for February showed an unemployment rate of 3.1% in the state, down from 3.2% in January and below the national rate of 3.5%.

But those figures will be obliterated by the surge in joblessness over the past two weeks. Earlier Thursday, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that 3.3 million people applied for jobless benefits across the country last week. Another surge is expected this week as many economists believe the U.S. jobless rate will surpass the 10% level seen at the peak of the 2008-09 recession.

In Minnesota, because of the way jobs data is collected, the recent leap in unemployment won’t be picked up in the monthly reporting by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) until the April report is released in mid-May. The agency compiles the reports from payroll data gathered at the middle of the month.

But the state has been releasing unemployment claims figures daily, and those numbers suggest that Minnesota’s jobless rate will leap to at least 7% or so.

Minnesota’s labor market and broader economy fared better than other states during the 2001 and 2008 recessions. But the speed and scale of the current downturn has no precedent.

In one bit of relief, Gov. Tim Walz, in issuing a stay-at-home order to Minnesotans on Wednesday, granted exceptions to a broad spectrum of employers and workers. DEED Commissioner Steve Grove said “critical” workers exempted from the order account for 78% of the state’s workforce.

Evan Ramstad • 612-673-4241