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Weekly N.C. unemployment claims remain on downward trend

Weekly N.C. unemployment claims remain on downward trend

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Initial unemployment-insurance benefit claims in North Carolina dropped again last week, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday.

The state had 8,080 claims for the week that ended Dec. 26, down 13.7% from a revised 9,368 the previous week.

However, that total is likely to dramatically surge in next week's report.

The N.C. Division of Employment Security reported Wednesday that the temporary expiration of federal extended unemployment benefits contributed to a record daily high in claims for the COVID-19 pandemic.

There were 43,297 claims filed Sunday — the day after two primary federal benefit programs exhausted.

The previous daily filing peak was 34,706 on March 30.

There also were 21,309 claims filed on Monday, 17,316 on Tuesday and 9,050 on Wednesday.

DES said in a statement that "the increase in claims filed after Dec. 26 is related to the expiration of federal benefits before the federal relief bill extending those benefits was signed."

"The increase in claims does not indicate ... new claimants entering the system."

The federal PEUC (pandemic emergency unemployment compensation) and PUA (pandemic unemployment assistance) programs expired Saturday. As of 10:30 a.m. Thursday, those programs have combined to pay $1.52 billion to North Carolinians.

DES said about 47,000 North Carolinians would be affected by the expiration of the PEUC and PUA programs.

PUA benefits are primarily for independent contractors, self-employed people and people with short work histories who became unemployed because of COVID-19. It is available for people who have to be at home to care for a child whose school has closed because of the virus.

President Donald Trump signed into law the $908 billion federal stimulus bill that includes an extension of PEUC and PUA for 10 weeks, along with a one-time $600 stimulus payment that is expected to be distributed this week.

The benefit weeks would have been 11 if Trump had signed the stimulus bill before Sunday.

There's an expectation that it may take until mid-January for the $300 weekly UI payment to begin.

That means those receiving payments from the PEUC and PUA programs as of Saturday may not get their next payment for two to three weeks, though the amount will be made retroactive to Sunday.

Jobless data

U.S. Labor reported that North Carolina was ranked 25th for unemployment claim filings in the nation last 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.

Nationwide, 787,000 initial claims were filed last week, down 2.3% from a revised 806,000 the previous week.

There were 19.56 million individuals nationwide with an active claim as of Dec. 12, down from 20.35 million as of Dec. 5. The breakdown is 6.33 million workers drawing state benefits and 13.23 million federal benefits.

Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at progressive think tank The Century Foundation, said the estimate for North Carolinians is an average $6,376 in PEUC benefits and an average $5,446 in PUA benefits when including the one-time stimulus funds.

Altogether, there have been 3.08 million state and federal UI claims during the pandemic.

Of those, 1.39 million are claims for regular state unemployment insurance benefits. Some federal programs require filing additional state claims.

About 32% of the 4.37 million North Carolinians considered part of the state’s workforce as of mid-November have filed a state or federal unemployment claim.

North Carolina is at $9.08 billion for state and federal UI benefit payments to unemployed and furloughed individuals. About 80% of the payments since late March, or $7.2 billion, have come from federal funds.

After $8.16 billion in state and federal UI benefits were paid from late March through Sept. 30, there had been just $912 million since Oct. 1.

DES began reporting Oct. 23 the statewide totals from the temporary $50 increase in regular state UI payments, raising the maximum weekly benefit from $350 to $400.

Payments were at $132.9 million as of 10:30 a.m. Thursday. The extra $50 per week payments ended Dec. 26.

Currently, North Carolinians can draw up to 12 weeks of regular state UI benefits over a 12-month period. The number of weeks will expand to 16 for new claimants in January, under a sliding scale in the state's unemployment benefits law.

Regular state UI payments are at $1.8 billion, with only about $98 million being paid out since Oct. 1.

Most unemployed and furloughed North Carolinians exhausted their 12 weeks of regular state UI benefits well before Oct. 1.

The state had $3.85 billion in the state UI Trust Fund in mid-March. State legislators said Sept. 2 that between $2.9 billion and $3 billion remained in the fund at that time. The third COVID-19 relief bill added $87 million.

The current federal extended benefits program has paid out $197.8 million overall. Those payments last up to six weeks. Those benefits are available to certain UI claimants who have exhausted up to 12 weeks of regular state UI benefits and up to 13 weeks of federal PECU payments.

The federal payments include $591.1 million from a projected $716.6 million from six weeks' worth of federal Lost Wages Assistance funding. There have been just $20.6 million in payments since Oct. 1.

The largest federal UI program — the federal $600 weekly benefit supplement — was allowed to expire by Congress on July 26. That program has paid $4.84 billion.

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@rcraverWSJ

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