SALT LAKE CITY — New Utah unemployment claims declined slightly last week, but state officials warn a post-Christmas end is near for federally funded benefits put in place earlier this year as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
A Utah Department of Workforce Services report released Friday showed a decrease in new jobless claims, to 4,470 from 4,617, while the number of Utahns who continued to receive unemployment benefits Nov. 15-21 dropped to 28,002 from 28,168 in the prior week.
An additional 120 Utahns continued to receive traditional state unemployment benefits, a 0.7% increase over the prior week, to 17,557, but participation in a federal program aimed at self-employed workers who don't qualify for those benefits fell 4.6%, and another federal program providing up to an extra 13 weeks of benefits saw a 2% drop.
The state reported 3,077 new claims for traditional benefits, down 1.7% from the prior week. There were another 709 Utahns who sought pandemic unemployment assistance under the federal program that pays a minimum of $211 weekly, a 1.4% decline; and 684 who sought extended federal benefits, down 10.6%.
Money will run out Dec. 26 for both federally funded programs.
That means the more than 10,000 Utahns currently counting on federal aid — including more than 7,800 now getting extended benefits — could have to turn to other government assistance for food, housing, utility bills and other needs when their benefits end, said Nate McDonald, the department's assistant deputy director.
McDonald said while there are still few jobs available in some fields, particularly the hospitality industry that includes positions at hotels, restaurants and airlines, employers are looking for workers largely in retail, warehousing and distribution.
It's soon going to be time for the unemployed to "get creative" in their search for a new job, he said, and consider something outside their field.
"There's really only one option. The other is just a hope. The hope is that the federal government extends those or passes something new," McDonald said, adding, "We know that there are people who have been looking for work. They've been looking for months."
Anything is better than nothing. Look at where there are opportunities and get a job where there are opportunities.
–Nate McDonald, Utah Department of Workforce Services
The extra $600 a week in benefits provided through federal COVID-19 relief expired in July, and Republicans and Democrats in Congress, who last approved relief in the spring, have been unable to agree on a new stimulus package.
More than $1.6 billion in state and federal benefits have been paid out since the pandemic began in March, McDonald said, and nearly 350,000 Utahns have filed for unemployment. The just over 28,000 now receiving benefits is still a high number, he said, but does show more Utahns are working.
"There are opportunities for people to get back in the workforce," McDonald said, with the overall number of jobs available in October 2020 down 0.5% from the same month in 2019. He said the continued rise in coronavirus cases in Utah, combined with seasonal employment only beginning to gear up, has kept that number negative.
Typically, only about 1,000 Utahns a week would file for jobless benefits, McDonald said, noting claims during the pandemic have been declining from a high of more than 127,500 in May even as a vaccine for the deadly virus remains months away.
The state is maintaining a list of "hot jobs" at jobs.utah.gov, he said, in anticipation of the federal benefits being lost.
"Anything is better than nothing. Look at where there are opportunities and get a job where there are opportunities," McDonald said. "We're just trying to get the message out there that there are jobs available."