SALT LAKE CITY — It’s a mixed bag for Utah’s unemployment filings: a few more Utahns made new requests for jobless benefits as well as extended benefits, but the number of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance filings declined during the same week.
Total new claims for unemployment assistance in the Beehive State registered at 3,289 for the week of Feb. 28 through March 6 — up from 3,113 the prior week, according to the state Department of Workforce Services on Thursday. In contrast, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims fell just over 10% to 435 from 484 last week.
During that same time frame, there were 31,701 continued claims made, the agency reported, 800 fewer than the week before.
“Weekly continued unemployment claims have decreased for five consecutive weeks, as we see Utah’s economy continue to get stronger and people successfully return to work,” said Unemployment Insurance Division Director Kevin Burt. “The federally funded unemployment stimulus benefits were set to expire on March 13; however, it appears many of these benefits will be extended with the recently passed American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.”
The new law got final congressional approval Wednesday and was signed by President Joe Biden Thursday afternoon.
Now that the measure has been enacted, the U.S. Department of Labor will provide guidance to the states on the proper administration of the federal funds and programs related to unemployment benefits.
He added that as the state learns more, information will regularly be posted at jobs.utah.gov/covid19.
Regarding the rise in weekly traditional and extended benefits claims for the week, juxtaposed against the decrease in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims, Burt said more time would be needed to figure out if the changes will be significant.
“It is important to recognize it as a single week of data, so seeing an increase for a single week is certainly not a trend and should not raise any alarms,” he said. “It is clear that we have not recovered fully based on the new claim volume, however, we are seeing overall progress.”
He noted how the weekly average of traditional new claims has declined each month in the first quarter of the year. The January average was 3,374, with February at 2,734 and the first week of March registering at 2,457.
With continued claims following a downward trend, he attributed the decrease to typical employment activity as the weather begins to warm up.
“The seasonality of claims is having an impact,” Burt said. “As the weather improves, the need for unemployment for those that work in these seasonally impacted jobs subsides.”
With the new federal stimulus package now approved, the impact the added funding will have on jobless claims in Utah is still a little murky, he said.
“We are not sure how much it will affect future claim volume. Utah’s economy has recovered faster than many other states across the nation as shown by our 3.1% unemployment rate, but it is clear there are many Utahns that continue to see employment disruptions and are applying for benefits,” Burt said. “The extension of unemployment benefits, as well as the stimulus $300 a week payment, will help these Utahns meet their needs until they are able to reconnect back to the workforce. These benefits will also be spent, injecting money into the economy and helping our continued recovery.
“It is important to remember that unemployment insurance benefits are only available to those who are unemployed through no fault of their own, are able and available for work, and are actively looking for work,” he said. “We certainly will pay these important benefits to eligible households, however, we also do actively communicate them as temporary and require active job search to find stability in employment.”
Nationally, The Associated Press reported applications for U.S. jobless benefits fell by more than forecast last week to the lowest since early November as COVID-19 vaccinations accelerated and states eased more business restrictions.
Initial claims in regular state programs fell by 42,000 to 712,000 in the week ended March 6, Labor Department data showed Thursday. On an unadjusted basis, the claims decreased by 47,170 to 709,458. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey had called for 725,000 initial claims.
Continuing claims — an approximation of the number of Americans filing for ongoing unemployment benefits — declined by 193,000 to 4.14 million in the week ended Feb. 27. At the same time, claims in federal programs ballooned as of Feb. 20, including a more than 1 million surge in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a program for self-employed and gig workers.
The initial claims figures suggest that more vaccines and fewer business restrictions are helping to slow the rate of job cuts. States including Texas, Mississippi and Wyoming have recently announced plans to relax pandemic-related rules, like capacity limits for dining and gatherings, which may boost hiring in the coming weeks. States with the largest decline in initial claims last week included New York, Texas and Mississippi. Meanwhile, California posted the largest increase.