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New jobless claims up over 6% in Utah, report says

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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 — The volume of claims for jobless benefits in the Beehive State rose by nearly 6.3% last week, a new report shows.

The Utah Department of Workforce Services said Thursday the total number of new claims filed for unemployment benefits registered at 4,473 for the week of Sept. 13-19, with a total of $61.2 million in benefits paid out to individuals.

The report also showed 47,839 continued claims filed during that same period.

Speaking at a weekly news conference, Unemployment Insurance Division Director Kevin Burt acknowledged the uptick in weekly claims, but said that isn’t necessarily a cause for concern.

“It is one week of data. Previous to that we had seen four weeks of reduction. It is important to keep in mind that at the peak, it was over 33,000 people requesting the benefit. Now, it was 4,400 — still a stubbornly high number, but it’s been that way for a while,” he said.

“There’s certainly disruption, but then also keep in mind, unemployment has a seasonality to it. With the fall coming, we do expect the continued claims as well as the new claims to start to plateau or potentially increase as seasonal work results in temporary layoffs because of the winter season.”

He noted there are also signs of possible recovery in the data, offering some sense of potential optimism for job seekers.

“It is promising to see the number of continued claims for unemployment benefits decrease every week. Unfortunately, it also appears that new claims have begun to plateau, showing ongoing disruptions to employment,” he said. “While employment disruptions have continued during this pandemic, Utah’s economy has shown itself to be resilient, as evidenced by the latest Utah unemployment rate of 4.1%.”

The Utah Department of Workforce Services Thursday conducted a virtual job fair where local employers from various industries were able to connect online with prospective candidates in search of a new job.

Nationally, the Associated Press reported Thursday the number of people seeking U.S. unemployment aid rose slightly last week to 870,000, a historically high figure that shows that the viral pandemic is still squeezing restaurants, airlines, hotels and many other businesses six months after it first erupted.

The figure coincides with evidence that some newly laid-off Americans are facing delays in receiving unemployment benefits as state agencies intensify efforts to combat fraudulent applications and clear their pipelines of a backlog of jobless claims.

California has said it will stop processing new applications for two weeks as it seeks to reduce backlogs and prevent fraud. Pennsylvania has found that up to 10,000 inmates are improperly receiving aid.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the number of people who are continuing to receive unemployment benefits declined to 12.6 million. The steady decline in that figure over the past several months reflects that some of the unemployed are being rehired. However, it also indicates that others have exhausted their regular jobless aid, which last six months in most states.

In addition to those receiving aid on state programs, about 105,000 others were added last week to an extended jobless-benefits program that provides 13 additional weeks of aid. This program, established in the economic relief package Congress passed earlier this year, is now paying benefits to 1.6 million people.

Applications for jobless aid soared in the spring after the viral outbreak suddenly shut down businesses across the country, which cost tens of millions of jobs and triggered a deep recession. Since then, as states have slowly reopened their economies, about half the jobs that were initially lost have been recovered.

Yet job growth has been slowing, and unemployment remains elevated at 8.4%. In most sectors of the economy, employers appear reluctant to hire new workers in the face of deep uncertainty about the course of the virus. Most economists say it will be hard for the job market or the economy to sustain a recovery unless Congress enacts another rescue package for individuals, businesses and states. Ultimately, an effective vaccine will likely be needed for the economy to fully regain its health.