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Utah unemployment claims down for 5th straight week, but still at historic highs

By Jacob Klopfenstein, | Updated - May 14, 2020 at 10:14 a.m. | Posted - May 14, 2020 at 7:36 a.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — The number of new Utahns filing for unemployment was down for the fifth straight week last week, but the state is still seeing historic highs for people seeking unemployment benefits.

Another 7,135 people in Utah sought unemployment last week, according to data from the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

That's down 21% from the number of people who filed for unemployment the week before that. In the week of April 26, 9,057 people filed for unemployment benefits.

“I think that’s a promising sign," said Kevin Burt, Unemployment Insurance Division director for the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

Though it shows a decrease, the data released Thursday show the continuing trend of high unemployment as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

People who seek unemployment benefits must also file a weekly claim showing that they still need and qualify for unemployment checks. The number of people filing that weekly claim in Utah last week was about 106,000, which was down about 1% from the week before — the first time it's decreased since the pandemic began, according to Burt.

Though that's a very small decrease, it shows that some people have been able to get back to work as Utah has transitioned from the red, high-risk level for COVID-19 to the orange, moderate-risk level under the Utah Leads Together 2.0 plan.

“As Utah has transitioned to the orange moderate risk, we have seen an encouraging decrease in the number of individuals ending their claim, a continued decrease in new claims, as well as a slight decrease in weekly claims,” Burt said in a news release. “We anticipate these numbers will continue to decrease as the economy dials back up and people return to work.”

The state paid out about $28 million in unemployment benefits last week, according to the news release. Another $51 million went to Utahns in the form of a $600 federal stimulus that is added to unemployment claimants' checks each week.

Since March 15, about 175,000 people have filed for unemployment through the state's program and the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, Burt said.

By comparison, in the three years from 2017 to 2019 a total of 195,000 people filed claims, Burt said.

Despite the historically high volume of claims, the unemployment division has been able to process 90% in 30 days or less, Burt said. About $312 million has been paid out to Utahns since March 15, he added.

That has already surpassed the amount of money paid out in all of 2018 and 2019 combined, which was about $302 million, Burt said.

People are reminded not to call the unemployment division if they have an issue with their claim. Staffers from the division will call claimants if there is an issue, and there is not a need for anyone to call the division themselves.

Nationally, nearly 3 million people filed for unemployment last week, and a total of about 36 million have sought benefits since the pandemic began.

Of the people claiming unemployment benefits last week, the office and administrative support industry accounted for the most of any single industry, with 15%, according to a news release. Another 9% came from the sales industry, and 8% were from the production operations industry.

Salt Lake County accounted for the largest amount of claimants from any single county, with 43%. Following were Utah County, with 13%; Davis County, with 8%; Weber County, with 6.5%; and Washington County, with 4%.

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