Initial unemployment-insurance benefit claims in North Carolina increased again last week, but at a much lower rate, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday.
The jump in claims in North Carolina and nationally followed the temporary expiration of two key federal benefit programs on Dec. 26.
The state had 14,511 claims for the week that ended Jan. 9, up from a revised 13,331 the previous week.
By comparison, there was a 44% jump in claims for the week that ended Jan. 2.
Payments resumed Jan. 6 for at least 11 weeks for North Carolinians with eligibility remaining for the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) 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 11 a.m. Wednesday, those programs had paid a combined $1.58 billion in benefits to North Carolinians, or about 17% of the overall state and federal UI benefits.
North Carolina was ranked 24th for unemployment claim filings in the nation.
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 UI claims outlook was more concerning nationwide with 965,000 initial claims filed last week, up 23% from a revised 784,000 the previous week.
There were 18.41 million individuals nationwide with an active claim as of Dec. 26, down from 19.18 million as of Dec. 19. The breakdown is 6.8 million workers drawing state benefits and 11.61 million federal benefits.
"Amid the ongoing turmoil in Washington, today’s dire Labor Department report is yet another reminder of the urgent people’s business facing President-elect Biden and the new Congress," said Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at progressive think tank The Century Foundation.
"New PUA claims increased by 123,000 to 284,000 last week, but this was in part because states were able to process more PUA claims after the stimulus was passed."
Stettner said the jump in UI claims nationally is concerning given a 140,000 decline in jobs was reported for December nationwide last week.
"The labor market data is flashing red warning signs for policymakers that the recovery is being battered by the unabated pandemic," Stettner said.
Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst for Bankrate.com, called the national UI claims surge "shocking ... at the highest point seen since late August."
"This reminds us that the economic crisis has not gone away, far from it, at a time when multiple crises have been vying for our attention. It hasn’t helped that administration of COVID-19 vaccines has been slow to gather momentum since the pandemic is at the epicenter of the economy’s ills."
State UI update
DES reported Thursday there were 7.161 claims filed Tuesday. The seven-day range is 3,063 on Saturday to 10.458 on Monday.
The record daily high for the pandemic stands at 43,297 claims filed on Dec. 27 — the day after the federal PEUC and PUA programs expired. DES said in a Dec. 27 statement that "the increase in claims filed after Dec. 26 does not indicate ... new claimants entering the system."
Altogether, there have been 3.19 million state and federal UI claims during the pandemic including 1.41 million initial claims. 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.
Payments resumed Jan. 6 for at least 11 weeks for North Carolinians with eligibility remaining for PUA and PEUC 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.
The resumption of federal unemployment benefit payments also included the temporary restart of the primary funding program that Congress allowed to expire in July.
The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) payments were made retroactive to Dec. 27. They are currently set to expire March 13 unless extended by Congress and President Joe Biden.
When the FPUC weekly benefit was worth up to $600, unemployed and furloughed North Carolinians received just under $4.88 billion from late March through July 26.
Since the resumption, FPUC has paid about $70 million in benefits.
DES said it is waiting for U.S. Labor guidance on how to implement the new Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation program. That program would provide an additional $100 per week "to eligible claimants who are receiving state UI benefits and meet self-employment income requirements."
North Carolina is at $9.29 billion for state and federal UI benefit payments to unemployed and furloughed individuals.
After $8.16 billion in state and federal UI benefits were paid from late March through Sept. 30, there had been just $1.13 billion since Oct. 1.
Beginning Jan. 3, North Carolinians can draw up to 16 weeks of regular state UI benefits over a 12-month period. Before Jan. 3, 12 was the maximum number of regular state UI benefit weeks.
Regular state UI payments are at $1.81 billion, with only about $100 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.