New unemployment claims slowing in Utah as state reopens

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The number of people requesting unemployment assistance in Utah last week dropped below 5,000 for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the United States but remained at a rate far higher than normal, show new figures released Thursday.

Utah officials said 4,996 people applied for unemployment in the week ending May 30, a 8% drop from the previous week and the eighth consecutive week that claims have decreased since a peak of 33,000 in the week ending April 4.

The unemployment figure dropped below the previous record of 5,300 that stood before the pandemic but had been eclipsed each of the previous 10 weeks.

But the weekly figure was 444% higher than the same time last year.

The consistent decline in claims is encouraging after Utah has gradually allowed many businesses to reopen since May 1, said Kevin Burt, Unemployment Insurance Division director for the Utah Department of Workforce Services, in a statement. He warned that unemployment aid is temporary and that workers must go back to work if given the opportunity unless they are a high risk for coronavirus.

Mirroring the rest of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic forced countless businesses to shut down or lay off workers. Since March 14, Utah has received nearly 170,000 claims for unemployment. That represents 11.5% of the total workforce of Utah that is eligible for the unemployment insurance program.

The state has paid out nearly $199 million in state funds while doling out an additional $333 million in federal stimulus funds, state figures show.

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