SALT LAKE CITY — The number of Utahns seeking unemployment benefits jumped nearly 35% last week, the Utah Department of Workforce Services reported Thursday.
The agency also reported that more than 60,000 residents are currently considered unemployed, and the number of jobless individuals may actually be even higher.
“Some of those are not filing claims right now but they’re still unemployed and so we recognize there are so many people impacted by the pandemic,” said Nate McDonald, assistant deputy director with the state Department of Workforce Services.
The number of total new claims filed for jobless benefits in Utah hit 4,758 for the week of Nov. 29 through Dec. 5 — well above the 3,519 claims filed during the previous week — an increase of 34.9%. There were also 27,133 continued claims filed during that same week.
“We saw the volume of new claims go up dramatically this past week, some of it can certainly be attributed to the expected seasonal claim increases as well as a relatively low claim volume during the Thanksgiving week,” said Unemployment Insurance Division Director Kevin Burt. “However, it is clear that the pandemic continues to be disruptive to employment and many are still in need of the unemployment benefit.”
Burt noted that the prior week’s “artificially low” number of claims was likely due in large part to the Thanksgiving holiday. The current volume would be more indicative of the true reality of the state’s unemployment situation, he added.
“Unemployment insurance has a seasonal increase to it, especially as the winter months come there are a lot of jobs that are no longer able to work, such as in the construction industry,” Burt said during a weekly news conference at the state Capitol. “(Workers in those industries) have historically always applied for unemployment insurance during the months of November, December and January.”
“We always see increases in unemployment claims, especially when the cold comes, which is what has been happening over the last few weeks,” he said.
He said the coronavirus pandemic continues to be a disruptive force in the Beehive State’s jobs economy, forcing many people out of the industries they have worked in for years, and now finding themselves at a critical financial crossroads.
With federal benefits funded through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act scheduled to expire in two weeks, officials are urging people who are out of work to seriously consider seeking employment in industries that are hiring even if those positions are not their first choice.
“What will happen is individuals that file their continued claim beginning Dec. 27 will be reporting the work they did for the week ending Dec. 25, and that is the final week they will receive payments if they are already on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or the 13-week extended benefits,” Burt said. “The reason why we say that is just to reemphasize the importance of actively looking for work. These programs, while they have been a great help, they have simply reached their shelf life and are going to expire, and stability needs to now be found in employment.”
McDonald said the state’s “hotjobs” portal lists thousands of positions in sectors including information technology, banking and finance, life sciences, health care and manufacturing among others.
“These are industries where we know they are hiring right now. But beyond that, we also have our regular job board where we have more than 30,000 jobs that are posted for openings right now,” McDonald said. “We know there are opportunities out there. We (also) know that it is tough if you’re stuck in an industry that hasn’t rebounded and you’re still trying to find a job in that area. We’re just encouraging people to expand their search.”
Burt said since March 15, the state has processed more than 357,000 claims and distributed $1.64 billion in unemployment benefits — more than was paid out in the previous eight years combined.
Despite the historic amount of benefits doled out to claimants, Burt said, the Utah Unemployment Trust Fund is still solvent and able to meet all requests for state financial assistance.
“Prior to the pandemic Utah’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund was the seventh healthiest in the nation, and what that did is it allowed us to be able to meet the demands of this pandemic with the unemployment benefits,” he said. “Right now, we are not projecting Utah to go insolvent, and we will be able to continue to pay out unemployment benefits to those that are eligible.
“That is not true across the nation (where) over 21 states have gone insolvent, meaning they have exhausted their entire state unemployment trust fund and have had to borrow funds from the federal government to continue to pay out state unemployment benefits,” Burt said.