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Utah unemployment claims dip again, but are still at historic levels

By Jasen Lee, KSL | Updated - Jun. 4, 2020 at 9:32 p.m. | Posted - Jun. 4, 2020 at 10:00 a.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — For the first time in two months, the number of Utahns filing for jobless benefits has fallen below the 5,000 threshold.

The state Division of Unemployment Insurance Thursday reported that 4,996 new claims were submitted in the Beehive State for the week of May 24 to May 30. The new total is a decline of 8.4% from the prior week’s total of 5,455 new filings, and well above last year’s weekly average of 1,131, the report indicates.

There was $25,463,189 paid in traditional unemployment compensation benefits, along with $47,995,870 in $600 weekly stimulus payments, as well as an additional $1,235,237 in federal extended benefit monies comprising a total of $74,694,296 in jobless benefits for the seven-day period.

The weekly report showed the industries with the highest percentage of claims were office and administrative support at 13.2%, production occupations at 8.7% and management occupations at 8.6%.

The counties in the state with the highest volume of new unemployment insurance claims were Salt Lake County at 37%, Utah County at 19%, Davis County at 8%, Weber County at 7.6% and Washington County at 3.7%.

“For the first time since the start of the pandemic, the number of new weekly claims fell just below the state’s previous record high of 5,300 claims in 2013,” said division director Kevin Burt. “The consistent decreases continue to be encouraging. With restrictions lifting, and economic activity gradually returning, it is important to remember these benefits are temporary and refusals to return to work will result in a loss of benefits for most who are not determined to be at high risk for the illness.”

Burt noted that more businesses are recalling furloughed workers, which has led to unemployment claim numbers falling for the past several weeks. While that result has been mostly positive, he warned that there are concerns still at hand.

“I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer, but in the end, there are some numbers that are being a little stubborn and stubbornly high,” he said. “If you take a look at the number of weekly claims, yes it is down for eight weeks, but it is still over 300% higher than the 2019 initial claim average.

If you take a look at the continued claims, yes it is down for four weeks, but it is still almost 1,000% higher than it was in 2019, and the benefits paid also are a little over 1,000% higher.” Burt said.

“It is important to remember that unemployment insurance is a temporary benefit. It’s never intended to be a full replacement wage and it’s never intended to be a long-term solution to someone who has lost employment.”

Asked about the solvency of the Utah Unemployment Trust Fund, Burt said being able to meet the state’s jobless benefit obligations should not be a problem in the foreseeable future.

“Nationally, as it is projected that over nine states have already requested funds from the feds as there are concerns that their state’s trust fund will go insolvent,” he said. “Keep in mind the $516 million (Utah has distributed) is an historic volume or amount that we have paid out, but also factor in that it is inflated because of the (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act and that $600 weekly stimulus. So, of the $560 million that have been paid out in benefits, 65% of that is actually federal funds.”

He added that Utah’s Trust Fund going into the pandemic was the seventh healthiest in the nation and currently there are no concerns about the solvency of the state fund. He also urged claimants to expect more employment opportunities to become available as more businesses reopen as constraints are rescinded.

“We do hope as the economic activity returns and some of the restrictions are considered being lifted, that a lot of individuals are able to return to work. And we are optimistic to see that a lot of jobs are available today for these claimants, and they just need to go to to access a lot of these or our employment centers, to get connected with a lot of these opportunities for employment.”

Regarding how long CARES Act benefits will continue, he said various benefits have differing durations.

“The $600 added stimulus benefit that is available for individuals who are on state unemployment, extended unemployment and pandemic unemployment — that expires at the end of July. The last week that will be paid is July, 25, so that expires across all programs (at that time),” Burt explained.

“The pandemic unemployment assistance is available through the end of December, and then the extended unemployment — the 13-week extension for those that exhaust their unemployment benefits — is also available through the end of December. Extended unemployment benefits is 100% federally funded, the pandemic unemployment assistance is 100% federally funded and the $600 stimulus is also 100% federally funded.”

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