Utah has its worst unemployment report ever as the coronavirus-caused economic crisis spreads

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Deka Lash beauty salon in Salt Lake City, closed and empty on Tuesday, April 7, 2020.

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Unemployment claims in Utah have jumped higher for a fourth straight week due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with a record 33,076 state residents seeking jobless benefits. The previous week, about 28,560 Utahns filed, which itself was a record.

Claims for the week ending April 4 were more than six times higher than the worst week during the Great Recession and part of nearly 6.6 million who filed for unemployment last week across the country, the U.S. Department of Labor reported.

An almost identical number of U.S. workers filed the week before that — and all told, roughly 16.8 million Americans have been thrown out of work or furloughed since mid-March, when the coronavirus outbreak first began rattling labor markets.

Fully 82,500 Utahns have reported losing their jobs, being furloughed or seeing their pay cut over that same time as social distancing efforts have led to the closure of countless businesses and slowed commerce to a near-halt.

“We continue to receive new claims at an unprecedented level,” said Kevin Burt, director of unemployment insurance for the state Department of Workforce Services.

Though no numbers are available yet for this week’s claims, Burt said the pace of applications “appeared to be trending a little lower.”

State officials reported job losses have spread from the hospitality and food service industries initially hit in the crisis to office work, retail sales, and personal care and services sectors.

With Utah’s unemployed now facing deep hardship — and between three and four weeks’ wait before jobless benefits reach them — many have sought other assistance. Officials at Utah Food Bank reported Thursday that 68,000 people had drawn on its pantries in March, nearly double the number in February.

An official at the food bank said many of those families were first-time recipients of emergency aid.

Nearly 43% of new jobless claims last week came from Salt Lake County, where a stay-at-home order has been extended to at least May 1, followed by Utah, Davis, Weber and Washington counties. Seven counties along the Wasatch Front are currently under health orders related to COVID-19.

The weekly volume of unemployment claims is a measure of the virus’ effects on Utah’s labor force, but it captures only a partial picture.

The Utah jobless numbers do not include what are likely hundreds of self-employed, contract and so-called gig workers previously considered ineligible for jobless aid but who now could receive benefits under a new $2.2 trillion stimulus aimed at easing damage from the coronavirus outbreak.

Burt said a new application process for those workers would be available early next week, following guidance from federal authorities. More information is available at jobs.utah.gov/covid19.

Congress, meanwhile, is considering still another massive aid bill to address widening effects of the pandemic.

Gov. Gary Herbert said Wednesday that Utah will be among the first states to begin adding a new $600 federal stipend to weekly unemployment payments through that historic stimulus, referred to as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Burt added that applicants will begin seeing the extra money weekly “moving forward,” and those already getting a payment for the week ending April 5 would get the cash retroactively.

Eligible residents who’ve kept their unemployment claims current don’t need to do anything else to start receiving the new federal aid, which will become part of their regular direct deposits or debit card credits, officials said.

The new CARES stipend is meant as a boost to traditional unemployment benefits, which in Utah’s case, typically replace between 40% and 50% of a worker’s previous pay. And, under the stimulus law, that additional federal cash could conceivably be added to weekly benefits checks through at least the last week of July.

Given a historic number of new applications since mid-March, Burt said, new jobless claims continue to take between 21 and 30 days to process.

State officials urge new applicants to go online to avoid long wait times on the phone and allow claims processors to focus on working through the backlog.