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Utah notes milestone in jobless claims as new unemployment filings fall below 4,000

Gayane Manukyan, Department of Workforce Services employment counselor, looks for an unemployment flyer to give a client at the department’s office in Salt Lake City.
Gayane Manukyan, Department of Workforce Services employment counselor, looks for an unemployment flyer to give a client at the department’s office in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. The state unemployment rate dropped to 3.6%.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The number of Utahns seeking unemployment benefits may have hit a positive milestone, with new claims dropping below 4,000 for only the third time in about a year.

According to the Utah Department of Workforce Services on Thursday, the number of people filing for first-time benefits last week were 3,817, down from the 4,548 filed the week before.

There were 33,033 continued claims filed during the week.

“Last week we saw a significant drop in new unemployment claims filed, as well as a drop in continued unemployment claims,” said Kevin Burt, director of the state Unemployment Insurance Division.

“I think it is certainly a promising indicator and does seem to show that Utah’s economy is continuing to recover from this difficult pandemic,” he said. “Over the last 48 weeks, we have only seen less than 4,000 new weekly claims three times.” (The others were the last two weeks of October.)

Burt added that one week is “certainly not yet a trend,” but that could change as the weather begins to improve and COVID-19 infection numbers continuing to decline.

In the months ahead, he said there will be a few milestones to look for that may signal notable signs of possible improvement.

“Continued claims are a better indicator than new claims. In 2020, we saw 34 consecutive weeks where weekly continued claims dropped (from May 9 through Dec.26),” Burt said.

When the Continued Assistance Act was passed extending expired federal stimulus programs on Dec. 27, it caused a rise in jobless claims in January.

“Continued claims have now dropped for two consecutive weeks after increasing for five consecutive weeks in 2021,” he said.

Acknowledging that 2019 was a historically low period for unemployment claims, he said it may take time to determine at what point Utah could come out of the historically high claims period brought on by the pandemic.

In 2017, the state averaged approximately 1,300 new claims per week, which then declined slightly to 1,230 in 2018, then hit an historic low of 1,130 in 2019 before skyrocketing to approximately 7,500 new claims per week last year.

“Four thousand a week is still historically high, but it is important to note that in 2017-2019 we did not have Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or extended benefits; these temporary federal programs do inflate the claim numbers,” he said.

Meanwhile, applications for U.S. state unemployment insurance jumped to a four-week high, indicating the labor market is suffering fresh setbacks even as the coronavirus pandemic shows signs of ebbing, Bloomberg News Service reported.

Initial jobless claims in regular state programs totaled 861,000 in the week ended Feb. 13, up 13,000 from the prior week, Labor Department data showed Thursday. Last week’s report had originally shown a decrease but was revised up to show a 36,000 increase.

Continuing claims declined by 64,000 to 4.49 million in the week ended Feb. 6.