Weekly initial unemployment-insurance benefit claims in North Carolina dropped below 5,000 for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday.
North Carolina had 4,919 claims for the week that ended June 5, compared with a revised 5,932 the previous week.
The state was 25th in the nation in the number of unemployment filings, down one spot from last week.
By comparison, the state’s highest weekly total for claims related to the COVID-19 pandemic has been 172,745 for the week that ended March 28, 2020.
The American Rescue Plan Act extended federal UI benefit programs through Sept. 6.
The extended programs include: pandemic emergency unemployment compensation (PEUC); pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA); federal pandemic unemployment compensation (FPUC); and mixed earners unemployment compensation (MEUC).
As of 10 a.m. Tuesday, the PEUC and PUA programs had paid a combined $2.57 billion in benefits to North Carolinians.
U.S. Labor listed North Carolina with 161,225 PEUC recipients as of May 22, as well as 1,505 PUA participants as of May 29 and 81,061 continuing claims as of May 22.
At $6.64 billion, the federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program has represented 54.7% of the $12.12 billion in state and federal funding that’s been provided since mid-March 2020.
When the PUC program’s weekly benefit was worth up to $600, unemployed and furloughed North Carolinians received just under $4.88 billion from late March 2020 through July 26. The program temporarily expired in December.
Since the resumption with the benefit currently worth up to $300 a week, FPUC has paid about $1.76 billion in benefits to North Carolinians.
Return to work push
At least 25 states with Republican governors and legislatures, including Georgia, Montana, Ohio, South Carolina and Texas, have chosen to discontinue participating in the PEUC and PUA programs, or are considering it.
A similar push is being made on Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper by North Carolina’s Republican U.S. senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, as well as several Republican legislative leaders.
The N.C. House approved June 3 by a 71-36 vote Senate Bill 116, which would compel the Cooper administration to withdraw from the programs before Sept. 6.
The Senate has not voted on whether to accept or reject the changes made to SB116.
“While workers are being incentivized by the federal government to stay home, many business owners have cited the additional $300 per-week federal unemployment benefits as a prime reason why they can’t hire,” House speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said in a statement.
Political analysts say Cooper is likely to veto the bill if it clears the Senate. With 71 yes votes, which includes seven Democrats, it was one vote short of being able to override a Cooper veto.
“There are more people looking for work in most North Carolina communities than before COVID-19, so we need to really focus on knocking down the barriers keeping people from accessing jobs,” said Patrick McHugh, research manager with the left-leaning N.C. Budget & Tax Center.
“Some of the challenges that businesses are having in finding employees are rooted in the financial barriers people face in getting back into the labor market.
“A lot of people need supports, like access to child care or training, for the new jobs that are being created.”
The national unemployment insurance claims outlook reached its lowest level of the pandemic for the sixth consecutive week at 376,000 for the week that ended June 5, down from a revised 385,000 the previous week.
There were 15.35 million individuals nationwide with an active claim as of May 22. About 3.77 million workers drew state benefits and 11.58 million received federal benefits.
Gus Faucher, chief economist with PNC Financial Services Group, said Thursday that weekly UI claims are falling “both because layoffs have slowed, and because unemployed workers are quickly finding new jobs with many employers looking to hire as demand strengthens.”
Faucher said about the pending Sept. 6 ending of the two $300 weekly federal UI programs that “we will soon find out if the extra benefits are discouraging reemployment.”
Mark Hamrick, senior economist analyst with Bankrate.com, said Thursday that with 9.3 million job openings as of the end of April, matching the official number of unemployed in the May jobs report, “there are plenty of crosscurrents in the economy.”
“With an unprecedented reopening, following a global lockdown, why would anyone think this would be simple or easy?
“With supply chain disruptions and volatile prices, the reopening remains a work in progress,” Hamrick said.
“But, the keyword there is, indeed, progress.”
336-727-7376 / @rcraverWSJ