SALT LAKE CITY — Tens of thousands of Utahns continue to file for jobless benefits even as the economy is recovering.
The state Department of Workforce Services reported Thursday the number of new claims for unemployment compensation in Utah registered at 4,264 for the week of Oct. 11 through Oct. 17. When adding in continuing claims, the state paid benefits to 38,843 people who are out of work, compared to 42,229 the week before.
Even though the weekly numbers are still nearly four times what they were a year ago, more people are not requesting benefits each week, the agency's report shows. Unemployment Insurance Division Director Kevin Burt said the state's business diversity can help those who remain unemployed or who have used up the 39-week benefit
"Utah's economy has proven to be very diverse, very resilient. And there are some industries that are really doing very well and growing, so we encourage people to actively look for work, even if it's in an industry that they have not worked before," he said. "The employment insurance program will not last the length of this pandemic. It has been a generous benefit to provide that safety net for the last several months, but it will not last beyond those 39 weeks."
The Utah Department of Workforce Services reported last week that the state's unemployment rate for September grew to 5.0% — up from 4.1% the previous month. The Beehive State fell to the No. 7 ranking nationwide for percent unemployed from No. 2 in August. While the rate increase was an economic setback, officials said there was some positive information that come out of the report as well.
"In this case, there is some good news and that is the state labor participation rate has increased from 67.4% to 68.8%," said Taylor Randall, economic recovery lead for Utah's Unified Response Team and dean of the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah. "What this says is that individuals who have been discouraged and decided to retract themselves from that market have decided to re-enter. So the good news is we have more Utahns looking for work."
He said the increase in unemployment is being driven primarily by individuals deciding that the market is good enough that they need to re-enter and start looking for work rather than being driven by job layoffs.
Contrarily, the U.S. labor participation rate continues to decrease, he added, falling slightly from 61.7% down to 61.4%.
"We know that we have many jobs that are out there and ready for people to jump into," he said. Jobseekers are urged to visit jobs.utah.gov and click on the 'hot jobs' button where the industry sectors with the largest number of available positions are listed, he said.
"This week, we're excited to report that we have three industries that have fantastic jobs," Randall said. "Finance and banking has 171 hot jobs listed, information technology has 161 hot jobs and construction has 114 hot jobs posted."
He added that health care — the state's "mega category" — is consistently a hot job sector, this week boasting 857 positions currently listed.
And while Utah's jobless numbers remain historically high, the state's trust fund remains solid, Burt said.
"Over the last seven months of the pandemic, the unemployment division has received claims nearly totaling the number of new claims filed in the previous five years combined, as well as approximately paying out more unemployment benefits than were paid in the previous eight years combined," Burt said. "In spite of this overwhelming demand, Utah's trust fund currently remains solvent and we are confident it will continue to meet the ongoing demand, while more than 20 states' own trust funds have gone insolvent," he said.
He reiterated that the trust fund can only be used "exclusively to pay out unemployment benefits to those who've been laid off through no fault of their own." Over the past seven months, the division has received 325,000 claims and paid out over $1.5 billion in unemployment benefits, he added.
Nationally the number of laid-off Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell last week to 787,000, a sign that job losses may have eased slightly but are still running at historically high levels, according to the Associated Press.
Last week's figure was down from 842,000 the previous week, the Labor Department said Thursday. The government also revised down the number of people who sought aid in the two weeks before that. The revised total for the week that ended Oct. 3 was 767,000, the fewest since the viral pandemic erupted in March, though still more than three times the levels that preceded the pandemic, according to the AP.
Economists welcomed the declines as evidence that the job market is still recovering from the pandemic recession. But some cautioned that the improvement could prove short-lived. With confirmed infections having neared 60,000 a day in the past week, the most since July, consumers have been unable or reluctant to shop, travel, dine out or congregate in crowds — a trend that has led some employers to keep cutting jobs.