SALT LAKE CITY — The number of people filing new jobless claims decreased 4.7% last week, according to the Utah Department of Workforce Services on Thursday.
Despite declining claims and low unemployment in Utah, the number of weekly claims is still significantly higher than historical averages. Unemployment Insurance Division Director Kevin Burt said government aid packages may be driving this phenomenon.
"While we are hopeful the need to file new unemployment claims will continue to subside, we believe the higher-than-normal new claim volume will continue as long as the federally funded stimulus programs remain," Burt said. "It is important to remember that historically the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and the Extended Benefits did not exist. ... Last week, these two temporary federal programs accounted for nearly 27% of new claims, inflating the current claim numbers when being compared to historical volumes."
The total number of new unemployment claims filed in the Beehive State registered at 3,143 for the week of March 7 through March 13. There were also 30,906 continued claims requested during that same period.
"The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 extends many of the federally funded unemployment benefits to individuals who have had their work disrupted by the pandemic," Burt said.
The American Recovery Act of 2021 temporarily extended many of the unemployment benefits that were previously available to eligible Utahns, a news release stated. Those benefits included a weekly $300 stimulus payment, along with the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program — unemployment for the self-employed — and federally funded extended benefits to individuals who deplete their traditional state jobless benefits that are now set to expire on Sept. 4.
The number of people who have not requested a benefit for two consecutive weeks as of March 6 registered at 2,001, up from 1,586 who met the same criteria the prior week.
While the past week appeared to indicate a few more people took advantage of the extended benefits provided by the American Recovery Act, Burt said the new law hasn't been enacted long enough to know its full impact.
"We did see an increase, but the increase was relatively small in number," he said. "The program is available through Sept. 4, so we will continue to see individuals apply for it until that date, but we are not expecting massive changes with Utah's strong economy."
Continued claims for traditional and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance both saw declines last week. He said the decreases could be attributed to progress being made with fighting the coronavirus outbreak, along with the continually improving economy and the seasonal change in the weather.
Meanwhile, the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose last week to 770,000, a sign that layoffs remain high even as much of the U.S. economy is steadily recovering from the coronavirus recession, The Associated Press reported.
Thursday's data from the Labor Department showed that jobless claims climbed from 725,000 the week before. The numbers have dropped sharply since the depths of the recession last spring but still show that employers in some industries continue to lay off workers.
Before the pandemic struck, applications for unemployment aid had never topped 700,000 in any one week. The four-week average of claims, which smooths out weekly variations, dropped to 746,000, the lowest since late November.
A total of 4.1 million people are continuing to collect traditional state unemployment benefits, down 18,000 from the previous week, the AP reported. Including separate federal programs that are intended to help workers displaced by the health crisis, 18.2 million Americans were receiving some form of jobless aid in the week of Feb. 27, down by 1.9 million from the week before.
The continuing layoffs are occurring even as the overall job market has shown solid improvement. Last month, U.S. employers added a robust 379,000 jobs, the most since October and a sign that the economy is strengthening as consumers spend more and states and cities ease business restrictions.