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Weekly unemployment claims drop 20% in N.C. following expiration of federal programs
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Weekly unemployment claims drop 20% in N.C. following expiration of federal programs

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The number of North Carolinians filing initial unemployment-insurance claims dropped 20% in the first week following the expiration of two key federal pandemic relief programs.

The U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday that North Carolina had 4,013 claims for the week that ended Sept. 11, compared with a revised 5,050 the previous 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 offered federal UI benefit programs until Sept. 4.

As of Sept. 5, nearly 178,000 jobless North Carolinians no longer had $300 in weekly federal benefits to rely on to pay their bills or feed their household.

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.

What is available 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.

U.S. Labor listed 36,111 North Carolinians drawing regular state benefits as of Aug. 28.

Pouring salt into an open wound for individuals 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,” Quinterno said.

In the latest U.S. Labor report, North Carolina was 22nd in the number of unemployment filings, down two spots from last week.

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 Sept. 7, the PEUC program had provided $1.75 billion and PUA program $1.23 billion.

The N.C. Division of Employment Security did not provide its typical UI claims update Tuesday. DES officials could not be immediately reached on whether it has paused its twice-weekly reports following the expiration of the federal programs.

U.S. Labor listed North Carolina with 124,002 PEUC recipients as of Aug. 28, as well as 93 initial PUA claims as of Sept. 4 and 49,518 continuing PUA claims as of Aug. 28. The number of initial PUA claims is down from 1,603 on Aug. 28.

As of Sept. 7, North Carolina had received $13.27 billion, with regular state benefits of $2.03 billion, while federal and state extended benefits are at $11.24 billion.

By far the biggest factor in UI benefit payments has been the federal pandemic unemployment compensation (FPUC) program at $7.31 billion. That represents about 55% of all UI benefit payments.

Also as of Sept. 7, there have been 1.54 million individual claims filed in North Carolina, with DES 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 3.83 million state and federal claims filed as of Friday.

Nationally

National UI claims went up by 20,000 to 332,000 for the week that ended Sept. 11.

The 312,000 claims for the previous week represented the lowest weekly claims count for the pandemic.

There were 12.11 million people nationwide with an active claim as of Aug. 28. About 2.81 million workers drew state benefits and 9.3 million received federal benefits.

Mark Hamrick, chief economist analyst for Bankrate.com, said Thursday that “it is disappointing, but not entirely surprising, to see a slight increase in new jobless claims given the toll taken by the delta variant.

“Countering that somewhat is the decline in continuing claims to a fresh pandemic era low.”

“The economic recovery is still facing recently generated headwinds, including the surge in COVID cases in the U.S. and around the world,” Hamrick said.

Gus Faucher, chief economist with PNC Financial Services Group, said part of the national increase in UI claims is related to Hurricane Ida’s impact in the Gulf Coast area, particularly Louisiana.

“With most people receiving benefits via pandemic-related programs, regular state continued claims were less important as a labor market indicator, although they will become relevant again with the end of pandemic-related programs,” Faucher said.

“The biggest question mark is what happens to the labor market, and consumer spending, given that pandemic-related unemployment insurance programs expired. Retail sales growth was surprisingly strong in August, but a big drop in UI income will be a drag in September.”

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@rcraverWSJ

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