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Unemployment claims remain high in Utah, report says

But official predicts more Utahns finding work as holiday shopping season approaches

SHARE Unemployment claims remain high in Utah, report says
The Utah Department of Workforce Services’ main administration building in Salt Lake City now bears the name of the late Gov. Olene S. Walker. The building was renamed during a ceremony celebrating the department’s 20th anniversary on Thursday, June 29, 2017.

The Utah Department of Workforce Services’ main administration building in Salt Lake City.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Seven months into the pandemic and thousands of people are still out of work and in need of assistance, new data in Utah indicates.

The Utah Department of Workforce Services reported Thursday the number of total new claims filed for unemployment benefits in Utah rose to 4,658 for the week of Oct. 4 through Oct. 10, with a total of $14 million distributed in benefits. There were 37,571 continued claims filed during that same week.

“In spite of a persistent high volume of new claims, we have seen an overall decrease in continued claims for 23 consecutive weeks in the state of Utah,” said Unemployment Insurance Division director Kevin Burt. “While the unemployment program has provided much needed support, we continue to encourage active participation in the labor force as opportunities prevail in Utah’s economy and the unemployment benefit remains time-limited.”

The number of individuals who have not requested benefits for two straight weeks as of Oct. 3 was 3,614. In comparison, a total of 19,793 people met the same criteria the previous week.

While the number of new claims remained relatively flat, Burt said he predicts a rise in the number of individuals taking employment positions as the holiday shopping season approaches.

“Individuals need to be actively involved in the labor force and actively involved in job search, and we will continue to make efforts to try and encourage that,” he said speaking during a weekly news conference. “The promising thing is that in Utah, we have a diverse economy. So there are opportunities where individuals can find employment and find some stability in employment before their unemployment insurance runs out.”

Meanwhile, state officials continue trying to connect people with jobs that are available. and working to provide retraining opportunities for those who may be displaced from work over a longer period of time. Additionally, the state is preparing to introduce a new metric aimed at helping Utah measure itself against other states across the country, explained Taylor Randall, economic recovery lead for Utah’s Unified Response Team and the dean of the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business.

“We have been working with the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute to develop a statewide measure, and in November we will be announcing for the first time a state level Consumer Confidence Index that will allow us to see how we compare with the rest of the nation,” he said. “It is our metric and it is something that we’ll be able to manage and it will be able to give us focus on where our weak spots are in terms of how people view the state of the economy and where they are in terms of making economic decisions.”

He characterized consumer confidence as “the basis of spending patterns,” noting that as businesses see spending patterns improving or expected spending patterns improving, they’re willing to make investments in the labor force and make investments in their businesses.

He also said the state is committed to connecting individuals to jobs that are available.

“A few weeks ago we came here to announce the new jobs board at jobs.utah.gov and the Hot Jobs Portal. I’m pleased to say that today we have over 1,300 jobs,” he said. “There are a number of industries that are desperate for workers. In health care, we have over 340 jobs available, in finance and banking over 166 spots, and if you look at advanced manufacturing, there are nearly 130 opportunities.”

He noted that over the last few weeks, the Department of Workforce Services made 4,000 individual calls to people that are unemployed, attempting to get them engaged in the workforce, engaged in their job search and explained to them the opportunities that are currently available. He said those efforts will continue for the foreseeable future as the state tries to get more people back on the employment rolls.

“Over the coming months, you’re going to see movement in the job market and these efforts will help individuals in a big, big way,” Randall said.

Lastly, he reiterated the opportunities available for career retraining that could help those still looking for work.

“We have a program open right now, we have deep needs for nurses and certified nursing assistants. If you look at our specially manufacturing training program, especially in advanced manufacturing, there are a ton of programs there that people can get engaged with,” he said. “Finally, if you look at our transportation sector, if you look at forklift operators and the need for a commercial driver’s license — as always, that is through the roof.”