Unemployment claims in Utah drop to lowest level in six months

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Pedestrians wear masks as they walk down Main Street in downtown Salt Lake City, on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. The U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday that new unemployment claims in Utah had fallen to their lowest level in six months.

New weekly unemployment claims in Utah continue to fall, hitting six month lows, as the state’s economic recovery from the pandemic appeared to solidify. New data shows that Utah’s metro areas are faring far better.

A total of 4,591 Utahns filed new jobless claims during the week ending Aug. 29 and ongoing claims fell more sharply than they have since the COVID-19 crisis began, with 7,991 dropping their requests for benefits, a sign they returned to employment.

Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune

The number of self-employed workers across Utah and those seeking an extension on benefits after exhausting their 26 weeks of tradition jobless aid also fell last week.

The news came as Salt Lake City, Utah’s last city to maintain a heightened stance on its coronavirus restrictions, announced Wednesday it would shift to a lower level — moving from “orange” to “yellow” — after cases of the virus had fallen over the past month. Utah’s capital will join the rest of the state, where risk levels are currently at either “yellow” and “green.”

The Labor Department reported Thursday that nationwide, some 881,000 Americans filed new claims for unemployment the same week, also a new low since mid-March. A total of 13.3 million Americans remained out of work, the department said, down nearly 1.2 million from the prior week.

That brought the U.S. unemployment rate to roughly 9.1%. By comparison, Utah’s rate for July was 4.5%, the lowest in the country.

And in further evidence that Utah’s economy was recovering faster than in other parts of the U.S., Salt Lake City had the lowest jobless rate in July among 51 metropolitan areas with populations of 1 million or more, at 5.3%.

That rate was nearly a third of those seen in July in the greater Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New York areas, which currently have some of the country’s highest unemployment numbers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And those rates are similarly low in Utah’s other larger metro areas: unemployment for July was at 5.2% in St. George; 4.0% in Ogden-Clearfield; 3.6% in Provo-Orem; and at 2.7% in Logan, the BLS reported.

In a related announcement, the state Department of Workforce Services said it was continuing to pursue short-term payments for unemployed residents under President Donald Trump’s early August executive order on additional jobless aid.

Those $300-per-week payments are intended to temporarily replace a weekly $600 stipend authorized by Congress on top of traditional benefits that had helped to keep many unemployed Utahns afloat. That payment expired July 25 and Congress has yet to agree on an extension.

Initially, that $300 per week payment was only to be paid out to those unemployed for the three weeks between July 26 and Aug. 15, but a DWS official said Friday the state of Utah had been approved to pay it for two additional weeks, extending eligibility for those out of work through Aug. 29.

So, sometime later this month, applicants will now get a retroactive $900 payment under this initiative for those first three weeks, followed by two $300 payments on top of their regular aid checks in ensuing weeks, the DWS spokesman said.