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Maine saw new jobless claims continue to fall last week as state officials announced that benefits paid to out-of-work Mainers could soon top $1 billion.
Mainers submitted 5,200 new jobless claims to the state for the week of June 21 to June 27, according to new data released by the Maine Department of Labor on Thursday morning. Of those, about 3,000 were for traditional state benefits, while another 2,200 were for benefits under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a new federal program approved by Congress as part of a coronavirus-relief package in late March.
That represents 4,100 people who filed claims last week. To qualify for the federal jobless benefits, Mainers must first be denied state benefits before they can apply for them under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.
Since March 15, Mainers have received $957 million in jobless benefits, according to the Department of Labor. By next week, that total could exceed $1 billion, the department warned. It paid $77 million in all of 2019.
Additionally, Mainers filed 62,300 applications to continue receiving state jobless benefits and another 28,000 sought to continue getting benefits under the federal assistance program last week, the department said. Workers must file applications every week to continue receiving jobless benefits.
Continued jobless claims fell slightly from the previous week, when 90,800 Mainers sought to renew benefits. But that still remains well above the high seen in April 2009 during the Great Recession when 28,564 out-of-work Mainers sought to continue receiving jobless benefits.
“As we see the economy reopening, we want to make sure that people are aware of MDOL services to help Mainers re-enter the workforce,” Maine’s labor commissioner, Laura Fortman, said in a Thursday statement. “With the work search waiver coming to an end July 11 for those who are not connected to an employer, now is the time to sign up for the free Maine JobLink, look into CareerCenter services such as resume building and training information, and begin thinking about their next steps.”
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Total jobless claims over the past four weeks have totaled about 23,400. 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, 7,420 for the week ending April 25, 26,600 for the week ending May 2, 21,000 for the week ending May 9, 11,683 for the week ending May 16, 37,000 for the week ending May 23, 24,500 for the week ending May 30, 6,700 for the week ending June 6, 5,900 for the week ending June 13 and 5,600 for the week ending June 20.
Mainers have filed more than 239,000 jobless claims since March 15. New claims each week until mid-June have surpassed the state’s previous record of 5,634 weekly claims set in January 2009 during the Great Recession, according to state data.
The industries with the highest jobless claims include food services and lodging, with 20,960; retail, with 15,057; health care and social assistance, with 14,869; and manufacturing, with 7,299, according to the Department of Labor.
On Thursday, the department announced it canceled 720 new and 3,000 continued jobless claims suspected of fraud for the week ending June 27. Since May 30, 68,600 fraudulent jobless claims have been canceled, according to Fortman.
Even as the cost of benefits provided to unemployed Mainers continues to mount, the Maine Department of Labor on Tuesday launched the third and final federal assistance program, extending benefits for another 13 weeks for those workers who have exhausted them. In late July, those Mainers still receiving assistance will see their benefits drop as a federal program providing an extra $600 a week expires.
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That comes as the state’s Consensus Economic Forecasting Commission said Wednesday that it could take up to two years for Maine’s economy to recover from the coronavirus-induced recession.
Maine’s unemployment rate fell to 9.3 percent in May, down from 10.6 percent in April. That compares with about 3 percent in March and February and 3.1 percent a year ago. The economic slump brought on by the coronavirus ended a 39-month streak of unemployment below 4 percent.
Nationally, 1.4 million Americans filed jobless claims for the week ending June 27, down 55,000 from the previous week’s revised total of 1.48 million million, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Since the outbreak began, more than 40 million Americans have sought jobless benefits to weather the economic slowdown.
The national jobless rate fell to 11.1 percent in June as the economy added 4.8 million jobs, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said Thursday. The national jobless rate peaked at 14.7 percent in April before falling unexpectedly to 13.3 percent in May. That is still well above February’s 3.5 percent, a nearly 50-year low.
Job growth rose sharply in hospitality, with gains also seen in manufacturing, retail and other sectors, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Despite the job gains in June, some fear that a resurgence in coronavirus cases could undercut employment this summer as more states, such as California and Texas, begin to impose coronavirus restrictions anew.