Utah’s jobless claims fall to a new pandemic low

Those claims are still three times higher than average during the Great Recession.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file phot) Help wanted signs from around the Salt Lake Valley, as seen on Friday, July 17, 2020. Unemployment claims in Utah fell the last week in February to their lowest level since mid-March.

With its unemployment rate among the country’s lowest, Utah has seen also new claims for jobless benefits plummet by almost a third in four weeks.

State officials reported 3,113 new claims for the week ending Feb. 27, the lowest level since March 21, 2020, when those applications exploded to 19,951 in one week as pandemic restrictions first began. Those claims — an indicator of new job disruptions in the economy — are now less than half what they were in early January and down 32% from the week ending Feb. 6.

Though down from record highs — weekly claims spiked at their peak to 33,076 in early April — current claims are still three times higher than average weeks during the Great Recession.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

A report issued Wednesday indicated the Beehive State had seen significant job gains in January, particularly in professional and business services as well as trade, transportation and utilities, and the financial sector. Jobs in hospitality and leisure, along with government positions, were sharply down.

The state reported Thursday that the level of ongoing jobless claims for aid filed week to week is near a six-week low, at 32,514. Still, the count of Utahns now getting extended benefits, having exhausted other aid, has risen steadily since January and is now at 12,390, its highest level since the COVID-19 crisis began.

Kevin Burt, director of unemployment insurance at the Utah Department of Workforce Services, said in a statement that while many federal jobless programs funded during the pandemic are set to expire March 13, “we are confident there are many employment opportunities for these individuals to successfully return to work.”

A new $1.9 trillion pandemic-relief package backed by the Biden administration and making its way through Congress would reportedly extend those benefits until September.

The Labor Department reported Wednesday that Utah’s unemployment rate for January dipped to 3.1%, one of the lowest in the U.S. and less than half the 6.3% national rate for that month.

Utah officials also reported Thursday they had launched a new temporary program of up to $100 a week in extra jobless aid for workers who have lost wages both in traditional employment and while self-employed, since late December.

To qualify for what’s being called Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation, applicants must have gotten a traditional unemployment benefit between Dec. 27, 2020, and March 13 of this year and be able to prove they also lost more than $5,000 in self-employed wages.

Eligibility is limited, officials said, but the program provides that $100 stipend for up to 11 weeks. More information is available at http://jobs.utah.gov/covid-19.