Utah unemployment claims decline further, but remain at Great Recession levels

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Shoppers at Fashion Place in Murray on Friday, May 22, 2020.

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Unemployment claims in Utah have fallen for an eighth straight week but still remain high due to the pandemic.

Nearly 5,000 applicants sought jobless assistance for the week ending May 30, joining another nearly 1.87 million Americans nationwide who did the same, the U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday.

Almost 43 million people across the country — and more than 193,063 Utahns — have now reported being laid off, furloughed or seen their pay cut since COVID-19 first menaced U.S. citizens and the economy.

But it was the first time since mid-March that national weekly jobless claims fell below the 2 million mark.

In Utah, it was also the first week since the COVID-19 crisis hit that claims declined below a previous weekly record of 5,300, set after a U.S. government shutdown in October 2013.

Filings have also continued a steady decline in Utah since their early April spike of 33,000 in one week, and they mark a second week of filing levels comparable to the worst of the Great Recession.

“The consistent decreases continue to be encouraging," said Kevin Burt, Utah’s Unemployment Insurance Division director.

The latest state data indicates 27,774 self-employed residents, independent contractors and workers in Utah’s gig economy also have sought unemployment since April 18, when the state began offering coverage to them under a new program authorized by Congress.

The $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act also added a weekly $600 bonus in federal assistance intended as an economic boost on top of typical state jobless benefits, in light of the health crisis.

For the week ending May 30, Utah paid out $25.5 million in state unemployment, compared to $48 million from the federal stipend, which expires at the end of July.

The Department of Workforce Services reported Thursday that it had paid nearly $533 million in jobless benefits between March 15 and May 30.

Recent state reports indicate at least 31,543 Utahns have dropped their unemployment claims since the last week of April, offering signs they are returning to work as stay-at-home restrictions continue to loosen and the state reopens its economy.

An estimated 70% of Utahns who’ve sought unemployment assistance since the pandemic began say they remain furloughed from their jobs, with an expectation of returning at some point.

The trend led Burt to reiterate a state policy that jobless aid is temporary and that refusals to return to work "will result in a loss of benefits for most who are not determined to be at high risk for the illness.”

The Labor Department estimated Utah’s jobless rate for April was 9.7%, compared to a national rate of 14.7%. Some economist are projecting the U.S. rate will rise to as high as 20% for May.

A report released Wednesday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics pegged that April rate a little higher for Utah, at 10.3%, but found those numbers were higher still for the metropolitan areas of St. George and Salt Lake City, with jobless rates of 12.3% and 11.2%, respectively.

Unemployment for Ogden-Clearfield area in April was estimated at 9.7%, while Provo-Orem was at 7.8%, and Logan had a rate of 6.2% — the lowest among all 389 U.S. metropolitan areas, the bureau reported.