Weekly unemployment claims hold steady in Utah as new benefit disbursed

SALT LAKE CITY — The number of Utahns filing for unemployment compensation was flat over the past week.

The Utah Department of Workforce Services reported Thursday that the total number of new claims for jobless benefits in the Beehive State registered at 4,563 for the week of Aug. 30 to Sept. 5 compared to 4,591 claims the prior week. The state paid out $17.5 million in benefits to claimants over the week.

Last week, DWS reported the new claims from people applying for unemployment assistance for the first time dropped by 18%. However, this week the volume of claims was relatively steady, declining less than 1%. The state also reported 54,661 continuing claims for unemployment aid.

“At the peak of this pandemic, we saw 33,000 applications in a week, so 4,500 is certainly much lower than we saw at the peak. But 4,500 people is still 4,500 people that are seeing disruption to their employment,” Unemployment Insurance Division Director Kevin Burt said. “For some historical context, in 2019, we averaged about 1,100 (weekly claims), so 4,500 is still about four to five times more than the average number of new claims we took last (year).“

He also noted the record number of claims that the unemployment insurance division took in a single week prior to the pandemic was around 5,000.

“So even though (the number of new claims is) certainly is trending in a good direction, and is significantly lower than it was in early April, it still continues to be incredibly high,” he added. “There are a lot of people that continue to apply for the unemployment benefit and we’re starting to see that will continue and will likely continue for the rest of the year.”

Utah also issued the first new disbursements in a recently funded federal aid package aimed at helping individuals recoup previously unpaid benefits.

“The Department of Workforce Services is proud to announce that we have successfully began to distribute the $300 weekly Lost Wages Assistance payments for the weeks ending Aug. 1, 8, and 15th to those that are eligible, providing much needed economic relief,” Burt said. “The payment is fully integrated into the benefit system, as a result no application or request is needed, anyone that received an unemployment benefit during the applicable weeks will automatically be considered for this additional assistance.”

Lost Wages Assistance is available to each state for a six-week period running from July 26 through Sept. 5, he explained. The six-week time limit resulted because of high state participation and capped funding availability to the federally funded program.

Individual eligibility is based on participants receiving at least $100 in weekly unemployment benefits. Claimants must also be eligible for one of the standard unemployment programs during the applicable time period and must have been unemployed or partially unemployed as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. If those criteria are met, benefits will be automatically calculated and distributed during the month of September based on unemployment claims already received, Burt said.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg News reports nationally applications for U.S. state unemployment benefits failed to decline as expected last week, a sign extensive job losses are persisting as the nation continues to struggle to control the coronavirus.

Initial jobless claims in regular state programs were unchanged at 884,000 in the week ended Sept. 5, Labor Department data showed Thursday. Due to a change in the methodology for seasonal adjustment earlier this month, the figure is directly comparable only to the prior week. Continuing claims — the total number of Americans claiming ongoing unemployment assistance in those programs — rose 93,000 to 13.4 million in the week ended Aug. 29.

The median estimates in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for 850,000 initial claims in the latest week and 12.9 million continuing claims. The unexpectedly high levels underscore the uneven nature of the labor market’s recovery. Many businesses are hiring or bringing back workers, yet millions remain unemployed and others are on the chopping block as more companies announce job cuts and small-business aid runs dry.

The Associated Press reports the weakening signs are emerging just as Congress remains unable to agree on further economic relief despite widespread urging from economists and warnings from officials at the Federal Reserve that more stimulus is needed.

House Democrats have approved legislation that would extend a now-expired $600-a-week federal jobless benefit, renew a small-business lending program and provide more funding for state and local governments to make up for lost tax revenue. Senate Republicans oppose those measures and are backing a much smaller bill that would provide a scaled-back new benefit for the unemployed and money for schools. That legislation failed in a vote Thursday, meaning Congress may adjourn later this month for the fall election campaigns without approving any additional aid.

Hiring will likely remain restrained as long as Americans are unable or reluctant to resume their normal habits of shopping, traveling, dining out and engaging in other commerce, analysts told the AP. The rate of reported coronavirus infections has dropped over the past several weeks but remains well above where it was during the spring. Most analysts say the economy won’t likely be able to sustain a recovery until a vaccine is widely available.

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