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Utah unemployment claims decline for 12th week

Officials say thousands of jobs open, urge people to look outside their field as federal benefit ends

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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 — Unemployment claims continue to fall in the Beehive State, the Utah Department of Workforce Services said Thursday, reporting a 17% drop in traditional new applications last week and 12% fewer pandemic specific claims.

There were 83,716 claims filed during the week of July 19 to July 25, with the number of total new claims filed for jobless benefits at 6,057. But with the end of the $600 bonus from federal pandemic aid, state jobless officials are reminding people that there are thousands of unfilled positions in the state and it may be better to work outside your career field than try to struggle on a smaller unemployment check.

“Right now, we know that there are certain industries that are not bouncing back anytime soon and with the $600 going away, you can’t sit back and rely on the unemployment benefit and have enough financial support,” said Nate McDonald, DWS assistant deputy director and communications director. “That’s where we’re saying you may be better off — even if it’s temporary — finding a job in a different industry that is hiring right now.”

He noted the agency’s current employment board has more than 25,000 jobs posted.

“In the retail world, we’re seeing a lot of jobs in customer service and retail, warehousing and fulfillment production-type jobs, delivery jobs, and because of all that, there’s a high demand for (qualified commercial driver’s license) truckers,” he said. “In the health industry, we have a great demand for registered nurses but also certified nursing assistants. Then from manufacturing, we’re seeing some production laborer needs with different types of production companies. In (information technology), we’ve got software developers, we have about five or 10 different companies that are all hiring software developer-type jobs.” 

He said the agency is not necessarily steering individuals toward a new career path, but encouraging them to help themselves financially by taking advantage of the opportunities that are currently available.

“If you invest so much already in your education to where you are in a certain career path. it’s just a matter of time for your industry gets back up and going,” McDonald said. “What we’re trying to say is there are jobs that are open right now (where) you may be able to apply your same skill set in a different industry (and) a different type of job (in the near-term).”

In just over three months, the state has processed and distributed well over $1 billion in jobless aid to Utahns, Thursday’s weekly jobless report stated.

“Since March 15, the Department of Workforce Services has received over 263,000 unemployment claims — about the same number of claims at the unemployment insurance division in the last four years combined,” Unemployment Insurance Division Director Kevin Burt said during a weekly news conference. “Also over that time period, the Department of Workforce Services has paid out over $1.2 billion in unemployment benefits to Utahns who saw their employment interrupted by this pandemic. To put it into context, we’ve paid out more this year than we did in the last seven years combined.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. economy plunged by a record-shattering 32.9% annual rate last quarter, according to Associated Press reports, which noted that the coronavirus pandemic is still cutting a path of destruction, forcing millions out of work and shuttering businesses. The economy’s stunning contraction in the April-June quarter came as the viral outbreak pushed already struggling businesses to close for a second time in many parts of the country, sending unemployment surging to nearly 15%.

The government’s estimate Thursday of the second-quarter fall in the gross domestic product was the sharpest such drop on records dating to 1947, the AP said. The previous worst quarterly contraction, a 10% drop, occurred in 1958 during the Eisenhower administration.

In a sign of how weakened the job market remains, more than 1.4 million laid-off Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week. It was the 19th straight week that more than 1 million people have applied for jobless aid. Before the coronavirus erupted in March, the number of Americans seeking unemployment checks had never exceeded 700,000 in any one week, even during the Great Recession.

And while Congress has yet to agree on another pandemic relief package, Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney and two other GOP senators introduced legislation Thursday to backstop unemployment benefits.

“Unemployed workers should not be left in limbo while Congress continues to negotiate the next relief package,” Romney said in a news release. “Our solution extends the supplemental benefits for three months and incentivizes states to update their (unemployment insurance) processing systems. We should act with urgency to help the millions of Americans who are on the verge of losing these additional benefits.”     

According to Romney, the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2020 stops disruption of benefits by allowing states to choose one of two options:

  • Immediate 80% wage replacement, or
  • A declining amount of $500 per week in August, $400 per week in September, or $300 per week in October.

At a virtual town hall meeting Wednesday night, Romney said there is deep concern for those struggling with unemployment because of the public health decisions to shut down businesses.

“I think there’s a real belief, certainly on my side of the aisle, that we can’t hold off the unemployment supplemental benefit while we’re negotiating a very, very broad next phase of a release relief package,” Romney said.