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New unemployment claims in Utah decline for second straight week, report says

SHARE New unemployment claims in Utah decline for second straight week, report says

Devin Ruth works on forms at the Department of Workforce Services in Midvale on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021.

Annie Barker, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — For the second week in a row, fewer Utahns are applying for jobless benefits.

The state Department of Workforce Services reported Thursday the number of new claims for unemployment compensation in the Beehive State filed during the week of Feb. 14 through Feb. 20 registered at 3,545, while the number of continued claims for that same week came in at 32,763, also down from the prior week.

“New unemployment claims have dropped by nearly 22% over the past two weeks, while continued claims have also seen a weekly decline for three consecutive weeks,” said Unemployment Insurance Division Director Kevin Burt. “The employment of many Utahns continues to be impacted by this incredibly difficult pandemic; however, Utah’s economy has proven to be incredibly resilient and there are many job opportunities available supporting our continued economic recovery.”

With some positive gains observed in most categories this week, Burt said the data shows the state’s economy is providing job opportunities for those who have had their employment disrupted by the pandemic.

“As always, we encourage job seekers to expand their job search efforts into other industries as there are several opportunities,” he added.

Despite the improvement, there continues to be unusually high volume in overall claims compared to historic data. He attributed that trend, at least in part, to the onset of colder weather and its impact on the job market.

“It is important to remember a few things when looking at claim volume. Utah has a higher seasonal claim volume during the winter months and we do believe the colder, wetter weather is causing some of the higher volumes,” Burt said. “In addition, the federal (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance) and Extended Benefits programs were not available prior to the pandemic — adding new programs increases claim volume numbers.”

He noted the one exception of improvement in the report was in extended benefits, where there were more extended benefits during the seven-day period than the prior week.

“The extended benefit becomes available for individuals who exhaust their available weeks in their state benefit. It is important to note that while there are extension talks, currently the (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance) and Extended Benefits programs — as well as the $300 stimulus payment — are set to expire on March 13. We continue to strongly encourage people to find stability in employment, and thankfully Utah’s economy offers several employment opportunities.”

Meanwhile, applications for U.S. state unemployment benefits fell by more than forecast last week to the lowest since November, signaling that job cuts are starting to ebb as COVID-19 infections decline and vaccinations accelerate.

The Associated Press reported initial jobless claims in regular state programs decreased by 111,000 to 730,000 in the week ended Feb. 20, Labor Department data showed Thursday. The prior week’s figures were revised down. On an unadjusted basis, claims fell by 131,734 to 710,313. Economists in a Bloomberg survey estimated 825,000 initial claims.

Continuing claims — an approximation of the number of people filing for ongoing state benefits — declined by 101,000 to 4.42 million in the week ended Feb. 13.

The figures, while still higher than claims data during the darkest days of the 2008 recession, indicate that pandemic job cuts may be starting to slow. Employment is expected to improve meaningfully as more Americans get vaccinated.

”Continued progress in many industries has been tempered by significant losses in industries such as leisure and hospitality, where the resurgence in the virus and increased social distancing have weighed further on activity,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said in a speech Tuesday.

Digging deeper, as of Feb. 6, the total number of claims in all unemployment programs was 19 million, according to the Labor Department. Initial claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a program for self-employed and gig workers, fell by 61,460 to 451,402 in the week ended Feb. 20. The program has also been subject to widespread fraud, which could be inflating the figures.

States with the largest declines include California, where claims fell by more than 50,000, and Ohio, where claims declined by over 46,000.

In the week ended Feb. 6, there were 5.07 million continuing claims for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which provides extended jobless benefits for those who have exhausted their regular state benefits.