Utah’s unemployment claims jumped for a second week as seasonal slowdowns and shifts in federal pandemic relief forced thousands of workers to seek benefits.
Residents of the Beehive State filed 7,630 new jobless claims the week ending Jan. 9, up 37% from the previous week, when claims jumped 33%. The rises have also pushed continuing claims filed week to week — a sign of more persistent job disruptions — to a seven-week high, now at 28,458.
The two-week uptick comes as unemployment claims across the nation have also been going up, with an estimated 5.8 million Americans now drawing jobless benefits of some kind.
The Continued Assistance Act, passed by Congress at the end of December, restarted weekly pandemic-relief stipends, now at $300, for those receiving unemployment due to layoffs, furloughs or pay cuts through no fault of their own. The act also reauthorized programs created earlier in the health crisis to cover displaced gig workers and those who have exhausted other jobless benefits.
The head of Utah’s unemployment insurance system said Thursday those newly approved $300-a-week relief stipends are being paid out, boosting the state’s total payments by nearly $6 million last week.
But the system’s executive director, Kevin Burt, said the transition to newly approved government relief from programs that had expired in recent weeks meant thousands of Utah workers had to reapply for benefits, pushing new claims upward.
New claims also rose last week, Burt said, due to temporary job losses the state usually sees from winter weather, particularly in construction — as well as the continued turmoil in many workplaces from the pandemic.
Weekly claims in Utah are currently seven times higher than the average week in 2019, he noted, “so we certainly are seeing the economy continue to be disrupted” by COVID-19.
Burt also noted that the federal extensions to unemployment programs would last only through mid-March, stating that, even for those getting benefits, “actively looking for work will remain critically important for long-term stability.”