106K have filed for unemployment in Utah over the last month

Photo by tuaindeed/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Unemployment slowed in Utah last week but jobless claims remained at historic levels as the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on the worldwide economy, state officials said Thursday.

About 24,000 more people filed for unemployment benefits in Utah last week, bringing the four-week total to 106,000. That staggering figure easily surpassed yearly totals for each of the last five years when the state averaged about 73,000 claims a year, state figures show.

The claims filed each of the past four weeks were more than any single week on record, including during the height of the Great Recession in 2009 when the high was about 5,000 in one week, said Kevin Burt, Utah Department of Workforce Services’ Unemployment Insurance Division director.

Yet there are indications the worst may have passed in Utah.

The total for the week that ended April 11 marked a 27% decrease from the week before. This current week is also trending down, Burt said.

Utah’s woes mirror national trends. The U.S. government said 5.2 million more people applied for unemployment benefits last week. The four-week total of 22 million is easily the worst stretch of U.S. job losses on record. The losses amount to about 1 in 7 workers.

The state has paid out $26 million in benefits over the last four weeks, state figures show. An additional $6.4 million went out this week from the federal stimulus funds that provides an additional $600 a week to people.

Utah is taking 21 to 30 days to process new claims, Burt said.

Nearly 8 out of 10 claims came from five counties: Salt Lake, Utah, Weber, Davis and Washington, according to state figures.

At the outset of the unemployment spike, about half of claims came from the food service industry. But since then, job losses have been spread across industries, Burt said. Last week, people in the office and administrative support industry and sales accounted for the largest percentage of claims, state figures show.

Over the four-week period, the food service industry accounts for more claims than any other industry with 17% of the filings, figures show. The next-hardest hit industries are office and administrative support (12% of filings), sales (10%), management occupations (9%), and personal care and service (8%).

In other coronavirus-related developments:

— Republican House Speaker Brad Wilson said during a special legislative session Thursday that lawmakers would be “creating framework and guidelines to start opening up our economy carefully, methodically, as quickly as possible and responsibly by the end of the month.”

Utah state epidemiologist Angela Dunn called targeting end of April a “great goal” but said health officials will have to watch data points.

“Hopefully we see a slowing of the growth over the next week or so followed by a decline in cases,” Dunn said. “Those are great signs that we can start looking into the slow reopening as long as we are vigilant about our data collection and testing.”

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Utah have dropped since a peak in the first days of April. But the state still hasn’t seen a steady decline. The number of daily reported cases have been going up and down over the last 10-plus days, state health data shows.

There are 21 confirmed deaths.

Utah is working on a state-specific plan that should be released soon that would enable the state to safely reopen the economy in a staged approach that would allow state officials to loosen or tighten up restrictions based on data, Dunn said.

Written by BRADY McCOMBS, Associated Press.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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