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Initial unemployment claims drift down slightly in N.C.

Initial unemployment claims drift down slightly in N.C.

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Initial unemployment-insurance benefit claims in North Carolina remained on a slight downward trend last week, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday.

North Carolina had 12,591 claims for the week that ended Sept. 19, down from a revised 13,437 the previous week.

The state had the 15th highest UI claim filings in the nation. The state’s highest weekly total for UI claims related to the COVID-19 pandemic is 172,745 for the week that ended March 28.

Nationwide, there were 870,000 initial claims filed last week, up from a revised 866,000 the previous week.

By comparison, the national weekly peak to date was the 6.87 million claims filed the week that ended March 28.

There were 26.04 million individuals with an active claim as of Sept. 5, down from 29.77 million as of Aug. 29. The breakdown is 12.26 million workers drawing state benefits and 13.78 million federal benefits.

With initial claims "stuck at between 800,000 and 900,000 per week since August, the pace of layoffs remains far above its pre-pandemic level," said Gus Faucher, chief economist for PNC Financial Services Group.

Faucher said the latest state and national unemployment totals reflect that most furloughed individuals either have returned to work or have been laid off since late July.

"Unemployment remains a huge problem for the U.S. economy," Faucher said. "Job growth will remain solid through the rest of 2020, although the pace of job gains will slow."

N.C. UI updates 

Meanwhile, the number of North Carolinians filing for initial state and federal UI benefits was at 7,685 on Wednesday after reaching a 10-week high of 16,144 on Monday, according to the N.C. Division of Employment Security.

"A large number" of the new claims the past four days came from individuals reaching one of two filing limitations.

They either have exhausted their 12 weeks of regular state benefits and subsequently begun a 13-week federal extended pandemic program, or were transferred from the 13-week federal UI program to another federal UI program of shorter duration.

The 13-week program is federally paid, but at regular state benefit levels.

"Federal guidelines require a separate application for each unemployment program," DES spokeswoman Kerry McComber said.

The daily filing peak for the COVID-19 pandemic was 34,706 on March 30.

Since mid-March, 1.29 million North Carolinians have filed a combined 2.4 million state and federal jobless claims.

About 30% of the 4.26 million North Carolinians considered part of the state’s workforce as of mid-August have filed a state or federal unemployment claim.

DES has paid out $8.05 billion in state and federal UI benefits.

That includes $564.5 million from a projected $716.6 million from six weeks' worth of federal Lost Wages Assistance funding.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said Sept. 15 that North Carolina has reached its limit for the program.

The Lost Wages program, created by an executive order from President Donald Trump, is a short-term replacement for the $600 weekly unemployment supplement that was available from mid-April until July 26, when it was allowed to expire by Congress.

The left-leaning N.C. Justice Center has said the state's economy has been losing about $350 million each week since the expiration of the $600 federal supplement.

About 69% of claimants, or 896,282, have been approved for benefits, while 29%, or 368,619, were determined to not be eligible.

Time running out

Because North Carolina currently has a 12-week maximum on benefits, the majority of state UI recipients have exhausted their regular benefits and shifted — if eligible — to one of four federal extended pandemic benefit programs.

North Carolina is one of seven states that have or will exhaust their Lost Wages subsidies by today.

DES said Sept. 18 it has received "clarifying information" from the U.S. Labor Department about how to pay a $50 per week increase in regular state unemployment benefits. It said it is "working to reprogram and test its system to determine eligibility and issue the increased payments."

The extra $50 benefit is scheduled to be paid from the week that ended Sept. 5 through the week that ends Dec. 26.

Recipients will only be new claimants of regular state UI benefits and those who have not exhausted 12 weeks of regular state benefits during a 12-month period.

The average approved N.C. unemployment claimant currently receives $278 a week in regular state benefits. The extra $50 a week would boost the payment by 18%.

Layoffs, furloughs

A projected round of tens of thousands of furloughs and job cuts in the commercial airline industry is projected to commence Oct. 1.

For example, American Airlines received $5.8 billion in cash and loans from the airline industry's separate federal Paycheck Protection Program allocation.

In exchange, American committed to not conduct major job cuts or layoffs before Oct. 1.

In July, American filed seven WARN Act notices just for North Carolina operations, including its reservations call center in Winston-Salem. The notice said 369 or 370 employees as potentially being affected at each facility.

A memo sent to employees said 1,000 reservations employees companywide would be affected by the workforce reduction initiative, or 23% of about 4,300 in that workgroup.

The Winston-Salem center currently has between 600 and 650 employees, of which about 400 have been working from home due to the pandemic, according to CWA Union 3640.

The WARN notice for the N.C. facilities said 74 employees across the facilities would have their jobs eliminated between Oct. 1 and Oct. 15. A combined 2,474 could be furloughed between Oct. 1 and Oct. 15, while another 40 employees could be furloughed between Nov. 1 and Nov. 15.

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