Utah’s weekly unemployment claims reach lowest level since mid-April

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A sign announcing that masks are required in downtown Salt Lake City on Thursday, July 16, 2020, as the city remained in the moderate-risk (orange) phase for COVID-19.

New claims for unemployment in Utah have reached their lowest level since the pandemic rush of early April, though they remain high by historical standards.

Nationally, new jobless claims rose for the first time in three weeks, with 1.42 million Americans reporting layoffs, furloughs or loss of pay for the week ending July 18, the Labor Department said Thursday. That was up from an 18-week low reached last week, at 1.3 million.

That number has begun to move up again partly as a result of rising COVID-19 cases numbers in as many as 40 U.S. states and new economy restrictions to contain the virus.

About 4,514 Utahns filed for traditional unemployment benefits last week, while 1,492 sought assistance as self-employed workers and independent contractors and another 1,061 requested extended benefits, after exhausting other aid.

As those 7,067 claims in total were being filed, state officials reported that 4,959 had dropped their claims the prior week, evidence they had returned to employment.

While a fraction of its April 4 peak of 33,076 weekly claims, that number is still several multiples higher than filings during the Great Recession.

The Labor Department reported last Friday the Beehive State’s unemployment rate fell to 5.1% in June as businesses continued to bring employees back from furloughs related to the pandemic.

That rate is the second lowest among U.S. states and well below the national average, which reported unemployment of 11.1% last month as the U.S. economy added 4.8 million jobs, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday.

The state Department of Workforce Services estimates that upwards of 70% of Utahns who’ve filed for unemployment due to the pandemic report being “job attached,” meaning they have been furloughed with the prospect of returning to the same position.

DWS said Thursday roughly 88,130 state residents continue to file ongoing jobless claims even as a series of pandemic-related relief payments are set to expire.

As the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES Act, is currently written, enhanced jobless benefits will go away Saturday.

Senate Republicans are debating the renewal of those and other programs, including an extension of the $600-per-week stipend that has been added to traditional state benefits, under the CARES Act, which passed in March.

The state of Utah has paid out nearly $1.15 billion in unemployment benefits since mid-March, with nearly $730.8 million of that federal money paid out in those $600 weekly stipends, DWS reported Thursday.

Another $39.3 million in CARES money has gone to cover the self-employed and workers in the so-called gig economy who were not previously eligible for benefits. Those workers have filed nearly 39,290 claims since March 15.

Nearly 10,810 gig workers in Utah were continuing to file claims, DWS said, indicating they are still have not returned to full employment.