Utah’s unemployment claims still running high, with a fifth week near 5,000

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) People wearing masks on Main Street in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 23, 2020. The Department of Labor reported that 4,961 Utahns filed new unemployment claims last week as the state's job markets continue to see disruption due to the pandemic.

Another 4,961 Utahns filed new unemployment claims last week, marking more than a dozen weeks now of exceptional job disruptions in the state due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Those residents were among nearly 1.48 million across the U.S. seeking government assistance for work losses during the week ending June 20, according to the Department of Labor.

A total of at least 47.6 million Americans and nearly 218,000 Utahns have now reported layoffs, furloughs or having their work hours cut since COVID-19 first rocked the U.S. economy.

Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune

Last week was also the fifth straight week that Utah’s jobless claims have hovered stubbornly around 5,000, even as more residents return to work with the gradual lifting of stay-at-home restrictions.

That weekly figure remains historically high compared to the state’s average of 1,000 claims weekly before the pandemic — but is still well below the peak of 33,000 claims in a single week, set in early April.

Utah’s Department of Workforce Services is reporting that more than 70% of those filing claims in the state say they’re “job attached,” meaning they’ve been furloughed and expect to return to work.

The number of Utahns who continue to file claims week to week has declined for seven weeks in a row and is now at 84,557, the department reported Thursday. That means well more than half of the state’s residents who have sought jobless aid since March 7 have since resumed work of some kind.

Utah’s Unemployment Insurance Director Kevin Burt noted in a statement that the number of people who dropped their claims last week — 7,039 — was well above the count of those who filed an initial claim for benefits.

“This means people are returning to work faster than they are applying,” Burt said. “We hope this continues as we work towards full economic recovery.”

Yet Utah’s new unemployment claims have not dipped below 4,803 — the number filed the week ending June 13 — since they first began shooting upward due to COVID-19 in mid-March. And a July 31 deadline is looming for when federal relief, in the form of significantly boosted jobless benefits, is expected to expire.

Utah paid out $71 million in jobless aid last week. While $23.9 million of that was drawn from the state’s unemployment trust fund, which is replenished by premiums paid by employers, the other $45.8 million was federal assistance, paid in the form of a $600 weekly stipend to each recipient on top of state aid.

Unless something changes the prevailing sentiment in Congress, that stipend — which in many cases has meant that total unemployment benefits have exceeded what recipients were earning on the job — will go away in four weeks.

The state has now paid out $752.8 million in state and federal benefits since March 15 and another $66.4 million in new aid to the self-employed, independent contractors and so-called gig workers in Utah.

Nearly 31,160 of those workers have sought benefits since the health crisis began, under a new system of temporary pandemic unemployment insurance created in late March by Congress. Those workers, too, also get the $600 stipend each week — and are set to see it expire in a month.