As Utah’s jobless numbers rise, most unemployed workers can expect to see that extra $300 stipend soon

Benefit applications still running three times higher than during the Great Recession.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) A help wanted sign in Salt Lake City, as seen July 17, 2020. Utah's unemployment claims rose the last week in 2020.

Utah’s unemployment claims shot up last week, even as national jobless claims inched down.

State officials said Thursday the jump to 5,588 new jobless applications for the week ending Jan. 2 was mostly seasonal and not attributed to the coronavirus pandemic, while also reflecting large numbers of displaced workers reapplying for benefits newly approved by Congress.

The Department of Labor, meanwhile, reported Thursday that 787,000 Americans had filed new claims for benefits that same week, down by about 3,000 from the prior week.

After 34 weeks of steady declines in Utah’s ongoing week-to-week unemployment claims, that measure of persistent job displacement also rose last week, to 27,292, according to the state Department of Workforce Services.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Although well below its pandemic peak of 127,532 ongoing claims in the first week of May, the current level of applications week to week is still almost three times higher than the past record, set during the Great Recession.

Kevin Burt, director of the state’s unemployment insurance system, said Thursday that Utah saw a staggering 387,345 jobless claims for 2020 as a whole, which is also nearly three times the peak total during the 2007-09 recession.

Claims in 2020 represent about six times the volume of claims filed in a typical year, Burt said.

Utah paid out a total $1.7 billion in unemployment assistance last year, compared to about $150 million paid in 2019, he said. Much of that was in the form of federal aid that the state passed on, though, authorized under the coronavirus relief bill Congress approved in late March.

Of Utah’s current ongoing jobless claims, an estimated 18,823 are coming from folks getting traditional state unemployment, Workforce Services said. Another 1,909 are so-called gig workers and independent contractors, and 6,067 are from those who’ve run out of other aid and are getting extended benefits.

Congress reauthorized assistance for those last two groups in late December with its approval of a $900 billion pandemic relief package, which also included cash for additional $300 weekly stipends to be paid on top of unemployment.

Despite a few days’ delay in President Donald Trump signing the pandemic-relief bill, Burt said Thursday most eligible recipients in Utah would not see an interruption in their benefits.

The $300 weekly stipend payments and continued aid to gig workers, who were not covered by unemployment before the pandemic, will go out on schedule, he said

But Burt added that folks eligible for a newly approved 11 weeks of extended jobless benefits may see some bumps. Due to late-arriving federal guidance on how to run the program, paying out that aid isn’t set up yet, he said, but state officials “are hopeful to have it available rather quickly.”

Eligible residents in that situation are being encouraged to keep filing their continued weekly claims as usual, Burt said. Application forms and full updates on benefits are available at http://jobs.utah.gov.

Meanwhile, November’s unemployment rate in Utah was at 4.3%, among the nation’s lowest, compared to 6.7% for the U.S. as a whole that month. State estimates indicate a total of 70,900 residents were unemployed as of November, with many thousands of them not getting any jobless aid.