Maine saw new jobless claims rise last week as the state’s economy continues to recover from the pandemic-induced recession while new outbreaks fuel rising case levels.
Mainers filed 3,200 jobless claims for the week of Aug. 23 to 29, according to data released Thursday by the Maine Department of Labor. Of those, 1,200 were for traditional state benefits and 2,000 were for benefits under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program Congress approved in late March as part of a coronavirus-relief package.
That represents 1,300 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 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which extends benefits to those who traditionally don’t qualify for them, such as the self-employed or independent contractors.
Since March 15, Mainers have received $1.43 billion in jobless benefits, according to the Department of Labor. It paid out nearly $74 million in all of 2019.
The department said Thursday it was working to roll out a new federal program providing $300 in expanded weekly benefits to jobless workers. That program, created by an executive order from President Donald Trump, is funded through $44 billion from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund.
The department estimated it would take three weeks to roll out the program, and benefits would be paid retroactively through Aug. 1 for eligible Mainers.
Additionally, Mainers filed 38,000 applications to continue receiving state jobless benefits and another 22,000 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. On top of that, 7,000 workers filed to renew benefits under the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment program, while 500 filed for state extended benefits.
That represents an increase in continued jobless claims from the previous week, when 64,100 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.
Thursday’s report comes amid a continued stalemate in Washington over the fate of another coronavirus relief package. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said earlier this week that Trump still wants to reach a deal with Democrats on the aid package, the Associated Press reports.
Mnuchin identified small-business aid as an area of agreement between the White House and Democrats, but Democrats and Republicans have remained far apart on new expanded jobless benefits and another round of stimulus checks to all Americans. Democrats have pushed for a $2.2 trillion package, while Republicans have put forward a slimmer $1 trillion package.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins this week criticized the Republicans’ proposal as falling short of what’s needed to bolster the economy. The Maine Republican told Maine Public she was working with senators from both sides of the aisle to put together a smaller package that could be passed as negotiations continue.
Total jobless claims over the past four weeks have totaled about 9,880. Jobless claims peaked the week ending April 4 at 30,899 new weekly claims. Those claims fell sharply to 13,421 for the week ending 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, 5,600 for the week ending June 20, 5,200 for the week ending June 27, 5,100 for the week ending July 4 8,000 for the week ending July 11, 3,800 for the week ending July 18, 2,600 for the week ending July 25, 2,070 for the week ending Aug. 1, 1,780 for the week ending Aug. 8, 2,500 for the week ending Aug. 15 and 2,400 for the week ending Aug. 22.
Mainers have filed more than 271,000 jobless claims since March 15. New claims through mid-June 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 13,383; retail, with 8,225; health care and social assistance, with 8,160; and manufacturing, with 4,677, according to the Department of Labor.
On Thursday, labor officials said that 443 new and 50 continued jobless claims were canceled due to fraud for the week ending Aug. 29. Since May 30, more than 30,000 new and nearly 50,000 continued claims have been determined to be fraudulent, according to the Department of Labor.
Maine’s unemployment rate rose to 9.9 percent in July from 6.6 percent in June. That compares with about 3 percent in March and 2.9 percent a year ago. The economic slump brought on by the coronavirus pandemic ended a 39-month streak of unemployment below 4 percent.
Glenn Mills, an economist with the Maine Department of Labor, told Maine Public earlier this week that the rise in July’s unemployment rate can be attributed to more Mainers actively looking for work. Mills said that June’s rate was artificially low.
Nationally, 881,000 Americans filed new jobless claims for the week ended Aug. 29, down 130,000 from the previous week’s revised total of 1 million, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. About 27 million Americans continue to collect jobless benefits as the U.S. economy recovers from the pandemic-induced recession, according to the Associated Press.
The national jobless rate fell to 10.2 percent in July. 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.