Maine saw new jobless claims fall last week while tens of thousands still remain without work amid the state’s ongoing economic recovery.
Mainers filed 2,400 jobless claims for the week of Sept. 6 to Sept. 12, according to data released Thursday by the Maine Department of Labor. Of those, 1,400 were for traditional state benefits and 1,000 were for benefits under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program Congress approved in late March as part of a coronavirus-relief package.
That represents 2,300 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.
Additionally, Mainers filed nearly 57,000 applications to continue receiving jobless benefits: 29,800 for state jobless benefits, 18,200 for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, 7,900 for the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment program and 800 for state extended benefits.
That represents a decrease in continued jobless claims from the previous week, when 65,700 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.
Since March 15, Mainers have received $1.5 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 has made the first round of weekly $300 payments to jobless workers under a new federal program. That program, created by an executive order from Republican President Donald Trump, is funded through $44 billion from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund.
The funds paid out last Friday retroactively cover the weeks ending Aug. 1, 8, 15. A second round of payments, made Wednesday night, cover the weeks ending Aug. 22 and 28 and Sept. 5.
That program only covers those six weeks and the second round of payments brings the additional benefits to an end, according to the Department of Labor.
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The program’s end comes as congressional negotiators remain stalemated over another coronavirus relief bill. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday that she may postpone the October recess to provide more time for lawmakers to reach a deal, according to the Reuters news agency.
A $1.5 trillion compromise bill floated by the “Problem Solvers Caucus” was met with bipartisan criticism, while White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows called it a “thoughtful proposal” that, while not aligning with Trump’s priorities, “provides a real opening for further discussions,” according to Reuters.
Democrats and Republicans have sparred over the price tag of the next relief bill. They have been at loggerheads over specific proposals to provide expanded jobless benefits and another round of stimulus checks to all Americans.
The odds seem increasingly slim that a deal can be reached before the October recess, as lawmakers must pass a spending bill to fund the federal government before Sept. 30, when the current fiscal year ends.
Total new jobless claims over the past four weeks have totaled about 10,800. 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, 2,400 for the week ending Aug. 22, 3,200 for the week ending Aug. 29 and 2,800 for the week ending Sept. 5.
Mainers have filed more than 276,200 new 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 8,593; retail, with 6,072; health care and social assistance, with 5,745; and manufacturing, with 3,123, according to the Department of Labor.
On Thursday, labor officials said that 480 new and one continued jobless claims were canceled due to fraud for the week ending Sept. 5. Since May 30, more than 31,000 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.
Nationally, 860,000 Americans filed new jobless claims for the week ending Sept. 12, which was down 33,000 from the previous week’s revised total of 883,000, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. About 13.6 million Americans remain out of work, with as many as 1.6 million having been jobless for 17 weeks or more, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The national jobless rate fell to 8.4 percent in August as the U.S. economy added 1.4 million jobs. That’s down from 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.
Gains in employment were fueled by government hiring for the 2020 census, as well as in the retail, leisure and hospitality, and education and health service industries, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.