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5K more Utahns file for unemployment benefits, down for 7th straight week

By Jacob Klopfenstein, | Updated - May 28, 2020 at 10:01 a.m. | Posted - May 28, 2020 at 7:51 a.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — Another 5,455 Utahns filed for unemployment insurance benefits last week.

The U.S. Department of Labor released numbers Thursday that show the increase. It marks the seventh straight week that the number of new Utahns filing was lower than the previous week, though unemployment numbers remain at historic highs in the state.

In the week of May 10-16, 6,275 people filed for unemployment benefits.

“We have now received the same amount of claims in the last 10 weeks that were filed over the previous three years, while successfully standing up all the federal stimulus benefits made available by the CARES Act,” Kevin Burt, Unemployment Insurance Division director for the Utah Department of Workforce Services, said in a news release. “I can’t say enough about the staff and how hard they have worked to provide this critical benefit to those who desperately needed it.”

Though trending downward, the data released Thursday shows the continuing trend of high unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nationally, 2.1 million people filed for unemployment last week and a total of about 41 million have sought benefits since the pandemic began.

The state paid out about $26.4 million in unemployment insurance benefits last week, according to the Unemployment Insurance Division. Another $48.8 million went to Utahns last week in federal money paid out through programs from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, the division reported.

The amount of money the state is paying out has also decreased for the third straight week, but is still much higher than normal, Burt said. In a typical week before the pandemic began, the division averaged about $2.9 million per week in benefits paid out, he added.

As part of unemployment benefits, people must also file a weekly claim that shows they still qualify for and need the benefits. A total of 9,772 people stopped filing their weekly claim on May 16, according to the Unemployment Insurance Division.

In the week before that, 6,583 people stopped filing the weekly claim. Though it's not clear if people ending their claim started receiving benefits before or during the pandemic, that number is trending upward as more businesses reopen as the Utah economy starts ramping up again.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is a federal program provided for people who are self-employed or gig economy workers and others who do not qualify for normal state unemployment benefits. The number of claims filed in that program was down last week for the fourth consecutive week, Burt said.

The amount paid through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program actually increased, though, Burt added. That shows that even though demand for the program is down, more claims are being processed and paid out more quickly through that program, he said.

The office and administrative support industry accounted for about 15% of claimants filing last week, which was the most of any single industry, according to the release. Another 9% came from the sales industry, and 8.7% were from the management industry.

Salt Lake County had the most claimants of any single county last week, with 40%. Following were Utah County, with 15%; Davis County, with 8.4%; Weber County, with 7.7%; and Washington County, with 3.5%, the release said.

State health data has shown that Hispanics and Latinos are being disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. That ethnic group accounts for more confirmed cases of the disease than any other group, despite making up only about 14% of the state's population.

Burt said about 13% of unemployment insurance claimants have self-identified as Hispanic or Latino during the pandemic, which approximately mirrors that ethnic group's percentage of Utah's overall population.

However, people are asked to voluntarily identify their race or ethnicity when they file for unemployment benefits for data analysis purposes, but it is not required, Burt said. The race of claimants is also not validated in any way through the division's processing, he added.

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