U.S. jobless claims remained high last week, while Utah’s numbers continued to stabilize

(Michael Conroy | AP) A help wanted sign is displayed at car wash in Indianapolis. U.S. employers advertised more jobs but hired fewer workers in July, sending mixed signals about a job market in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. The Labor Department said Thursday more than 857,000 workers across the country filed new claims for state unemployment insurance last week, before seasonal adjustments, a slight increase from the previous week. Utah's unemployment numbers, meanwhile, continued to decline.

More than four months after Americans began emerging from the coronavirus-caused lockdown across most states — including Utah — job markets remain treacherous, according to new data from the Labor Department.

More than 857,000 workers across the country filed new claims for state unemployment insurance last week, before seasonal adjustments, a slight increase from the previous week. Although the national unemployment rate has fallen to 8.4%, the level of layoffs reflects the challenges for many workers in the fitful recovery.

In Utah, where the unemployment rate is closer to 4.5%, the economic rebound from COVID-19 has been steadier, with ongoing unemployment claims declining every week since early May.

But the numbers for state residents laid off, furloughed or experiencing pay cuts still remain high.

A total of nearly 46,200 residents in the Beehive State continued to seek jobless benefits for the week ending Sept. 5, state officials reported Thursday. New jobless claims in the state, meanwhile, fell to 4,536 last week, the Department of Workforce Services said — their lowest level since the pandemic started slowing its economy in mid-March.

The state’s unified response team for dealing with the coronavirus on Thursday unveiled a new set of health and economic goals for measuring its success in managing the pandemic, with a heavy emphasis on keeping Utah’s fatality rate from the disease below 1% and holding unemployment at or below 4.5%.

Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune

Secondary health goals include keeping new daily case counts below 400, holding an intensive care utilization under 85% and controlling outbreaks. On the economic front, the supporting goals are restoring consumer confidence to pre-pandemic levels, keeping ongoing unemployment claims to less than 50,000 a week or below and reactivating job training.

Reports on those metrics, intended to guide Utah through the fall and winter, will be issued weekly, the response team said.

Officials at DWS also confirmed Thursday that Utah had begun to distribute a series of $300 payments to unemployed residents on top of their traditional weekly state benefits, under the Lost Wage Assistance program approved by President Donald Trump.

The new stipend — now to be paid for those who were eligible for state benefits of at least $100 a week for the six weeks between July 26 through Sept. 6 — is “providing much economic relief,” Utah’s Unemployment Insurance Director Kevin Burt said in a statement.

The additional aid is now going out automatically, Burt said, and will be capped at six weeks due to high state participation and a federal limit on funds for the program.

Nationally, new jobless claims topped 884,000 last week, unchanged from the revised figure for the previous week, the Labor Department said.

“Permanent job losses are mounting,” said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist for High Frequency Economics. “There are a large number of people who are being sidelined and could fall out of the labor force.”

In addition, about 839,000 new claims were filed under a federal program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which provides assistance to freelancers, part-time workers and others who do not ordinarily qualify for state benefits. That figure, which is not seasonally adjusted, represented a rise from 748,000 the previous week.

The number of self-employed workers in Utah seeking jobless benefits had fallen to 765 last week, DWS reported, putting that number near its lowest level since mid-April, when Congress first authorized jobless benefits for those workers.

All told, nearly 30 million people in the U.S. were receiving unemployment benefits in some form in the week that ended Aug. 22.