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N.C. has last-week surge in initial unemployment claims as federal programs expire
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N.C. has last-week surge in initial unemployment claims as federal programs expire

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The number of North Carolinians filing initial unemployment-insurance claims jumped significantly this week, likely in response to Monday’s expiration of two key federal pandemic relief programs.

The N.C. Division of Employment Security reported Friday there were 4,470 claims on Sunday — the most since 5,143 on April 11.

Nearly 9 million Americans are estimated to lose out on all unemployment benefits. Key federal jobless aid implemented in response to the pandemic expires Monday.

The claim totals decreased each of the next four days: 2,968 on Monday; 2,853 on Tuesday; 1,885 on Wednesday; and 1,657 on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the weekly U.S. Labor Department labor force dashboard is not likely to reflect the expiring federal programs until the Sept. 16 report, if that early.

The now-expired extended programs include: pandemic emergency unemployment compensation (PEUC); pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA); federal pandemic unemployment compensation (FPUC); and mixed earners unemployment compensation (MEUC).

About 178,000 jobless North Carolinians no longer have $300 in weekly federal benefits to rely on to pay their bills or feed their household.

What remains is a maximum of 13 weeks of regular state UI benefits — the lowest amount offered by any state — that provide a maximum weekly benefit of $350, although the average claimant receives about $235.

The U.S. Labor Department listed 31,100 North Carolinians drawing regular state benefits as of Aug. 28.

Pouring salt into an open wound for people without work: once the 13 regular state benefit weeks run out, N.C. claimants have to wait another 39 weeks before they can file again.

“One thing to remember is that although all of the enhanced federal benefits expired, that expiration is for benefit weeks starting after the week ending on Sept. 4,” said John Quinterno, principal with South by North Strategies Ltd., a Chapel Hill research company specializing in economic and social policy.

“People with eligible claims for prior weeks still are eligible for benefits for those weeks. That might include people who lost a job at the very end of August, or those with prior claims that are pending or under administrative review for some reason.”

Michael Walden, an economics professor at N.C. State University, said the uptick in claims “is likely due to a reduction in business optimism and expansion plans as the delta variant continues.”

“Those who could apply for assistance prior to the ending of the federal supplement would likely have done so as quickly as they could in order to receive the federal help while it lasted.”

As of 10 a.m. Tuesday, the PEUC program had provided $1.75 billion and PUA program $1.23 billion.

U.S. Labor listed North Carolina with 123,673 PEUC recipients as of Aug. 21, as well as 1,602 PUA participants as of Aug. 28 and 50,156 continuing claims.

North Carolina has received $13.29 billion, with regular state benefits of $2.03 billion, while federal and state extended benefits are at $11.26 billion.

By far the biggest factor in UI benefit payments is the federal pandemic unemployment compensation (FPUC) program at $7.32 billion. That represents about 55% of all UI benefit payments.

There have been 1.54 million individual claims filed in North Carolina, with the state Department of Employment Security determining that just more than 1 million claimants have been eligible for state or federal UI benefits.

Federal guidelines require a separate application for each unemployment program. Overall, there had been 3.84 million state and federal claims filed as of Friday.

Vaccine mandate

On Thursday, President Joe Biden issued an executive order that requires private employers with more than 100 workers to mandate immunizations or offer weekly testing.

According to The Associated Press, about 100 million Americans could be affected by the order.

Several large employers with operations in North Carolina have implemented their own similar vaccination policy, including Walmart, Hanesbrands Inc. for office employees, Tyson Foods Inc. at its Wilkesboro plant, and Allegacy Federal Credit Union.

According to the employer research firm Zippia, there are 1,028 corporations based in North Carolina with at least 100 workers.

In the Triad and Northwest N.C., those include Hanesbrands, Reynolds American Inc., Old Dominion Freight Line Inc., Unifi Inc., Brands Inc., The Fresh Market, Universal Furniture International, Tanger Factor Outlets, Culp Inc., ConvaTec, Qorvo, Renfro, Pike Electric, Insteel Industries Inc., and Volvo Trucks.

The AP reported that while there has been significant pushback from Republican lawmakers and conservative advocates, some large employers expressed relief that Biden’s order relieved them of the responsibility of implementing their own vaccination protocols.

Biden said Thursday that “many of us are frustrated with the nearly 80 million Americans who are not fully vaccinated.”

Per Biden’s order, the millions who work as employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government won’t have the option to get tested instead of taking the vaccine. The order also requires large companies to provide paid time off for vaccination.

Mark Owens, president and chief executive of Greater Winston-Salem Inc., said his staff has spoken with several large employers about their vaccination policies.

"We are encouraged by the measures many have already taken," Owens said.

"We are awaiting final guidance from the Department of Labor to fully understand how the implementation of President Biden’s plan will impact our business community.

"We continue to encourage individuals to take efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus so we can get our businesses and community back to normal."

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@rcraverWSJ

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