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Weekly initial unemployment claims continue to decline in N.C.
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Weekly initial unemployment claims continue to decline in N.C.

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

The state had 7,713 claims for the week that ended Feb. 13, down from a revised 9,350 the previous week.

North Carolina ranked 27th in the number of unemployment claim filings in the nation, down four spots from the previous week.

The state’s highest weekly total for claims related to the COVID-19 pandemic is 172,745 for the week that ended March 28.

The jump in claims in North Carolina and nationally during the first two weeks of January followed the temporary expiration of two key federal benefit programs on Dec. 26.

Payments resumed Jan. 6 for at least 11 weeks for North Carolinians with eligibility remaining for the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs.

The $908 billion federal stimulus package signed into law by President Donald Trump on Dec. 27 restored the benefits through at least March 13.

As of Tuesday, the PUA and PEUC programs had paid a combined $1.9 billion in benefits to North Carolinians.

U.S. Labor listed North Carolina with 193,039 PEUC recipients as of Feb. 6, as well as 4,232 PUA participants.

National outlook

The national unemployment insurance claims outlook continued its up-and-down nature with 730,000 initial claims filed last week, down 15.2% from a revised 841,000 the previous week.

There were 19.04 million individuals nationwide with an active claim as of Feb. 6. About 6.45 million workers drew state benefits and 12.59 million received federal benefits.

Gus Faucher, chief economist with PNC Financial Services Group, said the national decline in UI claims was likely influenced by bad weather and power outages in many parts of the country preventing individuals from filing

“They will increase in the week ending Feb. 27 as activity returns to normal and laid-off workers have the opportunity to file claims,” Faucher said.

Faucher some of the recent decline in initial state UI claims “comes from beneficiaries using up their eligibility and moving into pandemic-related programs.”

For example, in North Carolina most individuals exhausted their 12 weeks of regular state benefits between June and October.

Faucher predicted that “job growth should pick up throughout 2021 and end the year very strong,” based in part from projection of another COVID-19 stimulus relief plan from Congress.

However, he also cautioned Congress must act to half the scheduled expiration of pandemic-related unemployment benefits on March 13.

“With tens of millions of people still receiving unemployment insurance, the loss of these benefits would put a huge dent in consumer spending,” Faucher said.

Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com, also cited the severe winter storm and power outages affecting Texas and other states in predicting another uptick in claims this week.

“The total number of individuals on some form of assistance remains quite elevated at above 19 million, as a sign that economic distress associated with the pandemic is still very much with us,” Hamrick said.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic curve has begun to flatten and more vaccines become available, the hope is that we may now more substantially lift the employment curve.”

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@rcraverWSJ

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