May 27, 2020
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Maine’s new jobless claims drop sharply after three record-high weeks

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
A confident sign makes a statement at Don's Sports Cards on Brighton Avenue in Portland in this April 9, 2020, file photo. The long-running shop is currently closed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

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Initial jobless claims fell dramatically in Maine and nationally last week after three prior weeks of record-high filings, though continuing claims rose as the coronavirus continued to place unprecedented pressure on the economy.

Unemployed workers in the state submitted 13,421 new claims for the week of April 5 to April 11, down from the previous week’s 30,900, according to Maine Department of Labor data released Thursday.

The number of claims in the last four weeks totaled 89,500, or about 13 percent of Maine’s total workforce. In the week of March 8 to 14, before strict limits were placed on business activity, new claims were 634. Continued claims in the state rose to 55,692 from 41,300 the previous week.

Claims may rise again when the state allows contractors and self-employed people to file for unemployment. Those workers had been excluded from filing to date because they don’t pay into the Maine unemployment insurance program. However, they were included under the $2.2 trillion federal stimulus package passed last month.

Nationally, seasonally adjusted initial unemployment insurance claims also declined significantly from last week to 5.245 million for the week of April 5 to April 11, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The previous week’s level was revised up to to 6.615 million, down slightly from the 6.87 million the week before. In the last four weeks, 20.1 million people, or more than one in eight American workers, applied for unemployment benefits.

The U.S. advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 8.2 percent for the week ending April 4, up 3.1 percent from the previous week. That is the highest such rate since the measure was compiled. The previous high was 7 percent in May 1975.

[Our COVID-19 tracker contains the most recent information on Maine cases by county]

Maine has paid out $46 million in unemployment benefits in the last four weeks, Department of Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman said in a statement.

The department has been adding workers and instituted an alphabetical call-in system to handle the influx of claims. It is now saying phone lines will be open almost three hours longer on weekdays, until 3 p.m.

Fortman said Mainers collecting unemployment benefits will see the additional $600 provided for in the federal stimulus package by next week. Claimants do not need to do anything to collect the additional money, but must continue to file a weekly claim.

Maine’s labor department does not yet have a date on when the self-employed will be able to file, said spokesperson Jessica Picard. She recommends that until a date is set, self-employed people get the needed paperwork together showing earnings, such as their 2019 tax returns.

Some 67,000 people in Maine were self-employed in 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. About 8,000 worked in agriculture and 59,000 worked in non-agricultural activities.

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