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Utah unemployment claims still high, report says

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Low unemployment numbers don’t mean it’s easy to find a job.

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SALT LAKE CITY — The volume of claims for jobless assistance remains at historically high levels.

The Utah Department of Workforce Services Thursday reported that the number of new claims filed for unemployment compensation statewide registered at 4,458 for the week of Sept. 20 through Sept. 26, with $14,788,449 paid out in benefits.

Data indicates there were 44,306 continued claims for benefits filed during that same seven-day period.

The number of individuals who did not request benefits for two consecutive weeks as of Sept. 19 registered at 11,270, up significantly from the total of 1,615 that met the same criteria the previous week. 

“We continue to see economic recovery as evidenced by the now 21 consecutive weeks of reduced ongoing claims for unemployment benefits in the state of Utah,” said Unemployment Insurance Division Director Kevin Burt. “It is clear this pandemic continues to be disruptive, but Utah’s diverse economy does offer employment opportunities to those actively looking for them.”

With the threat of mass layoffs in some industry sectors, including the airlines, due to Congress’ inability to devise a relief package, he said even though many individuals may be officially separated from their previous employers, there is still hope for Utahns who need to find permanent employment.

“There will be some new applicants who were potentially working (temporarily), but it also could be that they were already on unemployment. They were just hopeful to return to the airline industry. And unfortunately, it may turn from a furlough to a permanent layoff,” Burt explained. “That wouldn’t be a change in the number of applicants (locally). It just emphasizes the importance of actively looking for work, because there are some industries that are struggling in today’s economy and the airline industry is a perfect example of that.”

He said that’s why the state has been so passionate in encouraging Utahns to consider taking work were the jobs are most plentiful.

“If you haven’t returned and it’s already been six months, you really should be actively looking for work and looking for the opportunities that do exist in today’s economy,” Burt said. “Hopefully these industries do eventually return and individuals can return to what they have worked in and what their experience is, but right now the best advice that we can give is look for the opportunities that exist now because there certainly are some industries that are thriving and we just want to make sure to connect people on unemployment to those industries.”

Nationally, the Associated Press reported the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits declined last week to a still-high 837,000, evidence that the economy is struggling to sustain a tentative recovery that began this summer.

The Labor Department’s report, released Thursday, suggests that companies are still cutting a historically high number of jobs, though the weekly numbers have become less reliable as states have increased their efforts to root out fraudulent claims and process earlier applications that have piled up. 

California, for example, which accounts for more than one-quarter of the nation’s aid applications, this week simply provided the same figure it did the previous week. That’s because the state has stopped accepting new jobless claims for two weeks so it can implement anti-fraud technology and address a backlog of 600,000 applications that are more than three weeks old.

Overall jobless aid has shrunk in recent weeks even as roughly 25 million people rely upon it. The loss of that income is likely to weaken spending and the economy in the coming months. 

A $600-a-week federal check that Congress provided in last spring’s economic aid package was available to the unemployed in addition to each state’s jobless benefit. But the $600 benefit expired at the end of July. A $300 weekly benefit that President Donald Trump offered through an executive order lasted only through mid-September, although some states are still working to send out checks for that period.

A result is that Americans’ incomes and spending are declining or slowing. Total paid unemployment benefits plunged by more than half in August, according to the Commerce Department. That pulled down Americans’ incomes for the month by 2.7% — a trend that, if it continues, could weaken economic growth.

Consumer spending did rise 1% that month, down from 1.5% in July. But that increase relied in part on consumers drawing upon their savings.

“Unless employment growth picks up, or additional (government) aid is extended, consumer spending is at risk of slowing dramatically during the second phase of the recovery,” said Gregory Daco, an economist at Oxford Economics.