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New jobless claims in Maine declined again last week, a report that comes as the state moves to gradually roll back economic restrictions put in place in March to curtail the spread of the new coronavirus.
Mainers submitted 7,420 new jobless claims to the state for the week of April 19 to 25, according to new data the Maine Department of Labor released Thursday morning. Maine workers received $59.7 million in jobless benefits last week, including an additional $600 in assistance under a new federal program launched in response to the pandemic. Since March 15, Mainers have received more than $200 million in benefits, according to the department.
Total jobless claims over the past four weeks have totaled 63,291, or about 9 percent of Maine’s total civilian workforce. Jobless claims peaked the week of March 29 to April 4 at 30,899 new weekly claims. Those claims fell sharply to 13,421 for the week of April 5 to April 11, ending three weeks of record high unemployment filings. Jobless claims for the week ending April 18 totaled 11,561.
“Initial unemployment claims have now declined for three consecutive weeks. While we expect a surge in new claims later this week, this is due to the implementation of the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, not an indication that additional people are losing their employment,” the state’s labor commissioner, Laura Fortman, said in a statement Thursday morning.
That refers to a new program that will allow unemployed self-employed workers and independent contractors to claim jobless benefits. The expansion of unemployment benefits to self-employed workers and independent contractors, who make up as much as 10 percent of Maine’s workforce, passed as part of a federal stimulus package at the end of March. But the Maine Department of Labor has been slow in rolling out the program, citing software development and the need for guidance from the U.S. government.
Those workers can begin to apply for unemployment benefits at 8 a.m. Friday.
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In the six weeks from March 15 to April 25, there have been about 108,500 new jobless claims, matching the overall total for the previous 147 weeks combined. New jobless claims are still higher than the state’s previous record of 5,634 weekly claims set in January 2009 during the Great Recession, according to state data.
Continued jobless claims for the week ending April 25 were 72,900, up from 66,500 the week before. That is the highest on record and more than twice the peak seen in early 2009 during the recession, the Department of Labor reports.
The industries with the highest jobless claims for the three-week period ending April 25 include food services and lodging, with 13,640; health care and social assistance, with 10,490; retail, with 9,230; and manufacturing, with 7,110, according to the Department of Labor.
Thursday’s jobless claims data came a day before coronavirus-related restrictions were set to ease under a plan Democratic Gov. Janet Mills outlined this week. Under that plan, certain businesses, including barber shops, salons and other personal services, will be permitted to reopen Friday, while keeping in place restrictions on lodgings and other industries into the summer. It also requires individuals to wear cloth face coverings in settings where it is difficult to maintain social distancing.
Maine’s unemployment rate stood at 3.2 percent in March, compared with 3.2 percent in February and 3.1 percent a year ago. That continues a four-year streak of record low unemployment, but the rate is based on labor force information culled during the week of March 12, before new restrictions curtailed economic activity in Maine to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
Nationally, 3,839,000 Americans filed jobless claims for the week ending April 25, down 603,000 from the previous week’s revised total of 4,427,000, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Since the coronavirus outbreak began, more than 30 million Americans have sought jobless benefits to weather the economic slowdown. That’s nearly 1 in 6 American workers, the Associated Press reports.
The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose 1.5 percentage points to 12.4 percent for the week ending April 25, the highest level ever since the seasonally adjusted rate was first compiled, the U.S. Department of Labor said.
That news follows reports from the U.S. Commerce Department that the economy contracted 4.8 percent in the first quarter of the year, which ended in March. It is the sharpest drop since the Great Recession and likely foretells a more grim report for the second quarter when business closures and job losses began to accelerate, according to the Associated Press.
Watch: Janet Mills outlines her plan to reopen