SALT LAKE CITY — The volume of new unemployment claims filed rose 13.7% last week, the second week in a row that more Utahns sought benefits, according to data from the Utah Department of Workforce Services.
The agency reported Thursday the number of total new claims filed for unemployment benefits in the Beehive State registered at 4,617 for the week of Nov. 8 through Nov. 14, up from 4,060 claims the week before. A total of 28,168 continued claims were also filed last week.
"A high demand for the unemployment benefit persists as new claims have increased for two consecutive weeks; it is critical to note that we were and are expecting a seasonal increase in claims during the winter months," said Kevin Burt, director of the state Unemployment Insurance Division.
"In more promising data, we have seen a decrease in continued or ongoing claims for 28 consecutive weeks as Utah's economy continues to gradually recover during this difficult pandemic."
The number of people who did not request a benefit for two straight weeks as of Nov. 7 registered at 3,264, down slightly from 3,331 who met met the same criteria during the previous week.
"It is important to understand there is a seasonality to the unemployment insurance benefit, meaning that during the months of November, December and January we see an increase in unemployment claims because of the seasonal weather in the state of Utah," Burt said. "Many industries are unable to work during those harsher winter months, so they commonly apply for unemployment insurance during these winter months."
He said the division is seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases, which continues to be disruptive to the economy and to employment. However, the seasonal aspect of the matter will require more analysis to determine the root cause of the increase, he added.
Meanwhile, officials encouraged individuals sidelined due to the ongoing impacts of the pandemic to purse job opportunities that may be outside their chosen career field in order to mitigate their challenging economic situation.
"Right now, there are over 30,000 open job postings on our regular job board." said DWS assistant deputy director and communication director Nate McDonald. "But also, if you're going in there and you're just not having luck, meaning the job you're interested in the industry you've been in (is unavailable). You just have not been able to find work or get hired in those jobs because even though there may be a listing for that job, the competitiveness for those jobs is really high.
"It might be time for you to look and consider work in industries where they are hiring, where there are opportunities, where the jobs are and the need is there," he said. "This is the time for you to start looking at those job opportunities. Even if it's not your ideal situation, even if it's not in the industry you want to be in or your education is in, you may be at a time if your unemployment benefits are expiring to start considering looking at these jobs that are considered hot right now."
McDonald also noted that employers can take advantage of the Small Business quarantine grant program to help them with employees who may need to quarantine or isolate as a result of COVID-19.
"This is a state (Labor Commission) program that we stood up with (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act money to help support small businesses pay their employees who need to quarantine and isolate for those two weeks, and allow them to get their wages and still be paid," he said. "This removes the temptation to come to work because you need that paycheck. This is a program for small businesses (where) they will be reimbursed for the wages and they will get reimbursed from the state."
Nationally, applications for U.S. state unemployment benefits rose for the first time in five weeks, suggesting the labor-market recovery is slowing amid a surging pandemic and fresh business restrictions.
Initial jobless claims in regular state programs totaled 742,000 in the week ending Nov. 14, up 31,000 from the prior week, Labor Department data showed Thursday. On an unadjusted basis, the figure increased by about 18,000. The week included Veterans Day, and claims data tend to be more volatile around holidays.
Continuing claims — the total pool of Americans on ongoing state unemployment benefits — fell 429,000 to 6.37 million in the week ended Nov. 7.
The number of Americans claiming extended assistance continued to rise as many unemployed exhausted regular state benefits. The main figures compared with economists' projections for 700,000 initial claims and 6.4 million continuing claims, based on the median estimates in Bloomberg surveys.
The U.S. labor market is already suffering anew from the record pace of COVID-19 infections, which has spurred a new wave of government restrictions on businesses across the country. Restaurants are likely to be hit particularly hard by the loss of indoor dining in colder weather, and a lack of fresh stimulus will also weigh on the recovery during the wait for widespread vaccine distribution.
The increase in initial jobless claims was driven by a surge in Louisiana, where filings more than quadrupled from the prior week to 42,724. Claims also rose in Massachusetts, Texas and Virginia.