North Carolina experienced a 14.4% decrease last week in individuals filing for initial unemployment-insurance benefits in response to the COVID-19 virus, the U.S. Labor Department said Thursday.
At 84,716 claims for the week that ended Saturday, down from a revised 98,941 for the week that ended April 25, that total still remains above the peak monthly volume of 100,000 during the Great Recession.
North Carolina had the ninth highest unemployment-insurance, or UI, claim filings for last week.
To date, North Carolina’s highest weekly total for UI claims is 172,745 for the week that ended March 28.
Meanwhile, at 1.07 million state UI benefit claims as of Thursday morning, 21.5% of the 4.97 million North Carolinians listed in the state’s workforce as of mid-March have filed a UI claim.
There were 19,495 claims filed Wednesday. The daily peak was 34,706 on March 30, and the second highest was 32,613 on Monday.
Nationwide, there was a decrease in initial unemployment claims at 3.17 million, compared with 3.85 million for the week that ended April 28. The peak has been 6.87 million the week that ended March 28.
The overall total of unemployment claims since March 15 is 31.46 million, although that number could be affected by individuals filing multiple claims if they had multiple jobs.
By contrast, the number of unemployment claims nationwide was at 282,000 the week before governors and city and county governments began imposing stay-at-home restrictions to slow the pandemic’s spread.
The U.S. Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration said the seasonally adjusted U.S. unemployment rate was 15.5% for the week that ended April 25, up from 12.4% for the week that ended April 18.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is set to report today, Friday, the national jobless rate for April.
The labor-force data does not distinguish how many workers are full time, temporary or part time, or how many jobs people are working. The bureau’s U6 index includes those categories, and is projected to exceed 20% in April.
Gus Faucher, the chief economist for PNC Financial Services Group. said Thursday that the April U.S. jobless report “will be the worst in history.”
“A report Wednesday based on data from payroll-processing firm ADP indicated private sector job losses of more than 20 million in April. PNC expects that the official Bureau of Labor Statistics report will show job losses of around that level as well,” Faucher said.
He said the unemployment rate will likely jump from 4.4% in March to around 16% in April — the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression in the 1930s.
The second round of federal UI benefits that began April 24 spurred the latest surge in UI applications in North Carolina.
The N.C. Division of Employment Security reported that as of Thursday morning, it had paid out $1.41 billion in state and federal UI benefits: $792.3 million from the federal pandemic unemployment-compensation package, known as PUC; just under $480 million in state benefits; and $142.4 million in the federal pandemic unemployment assistance package, dubbed PUA.
The Division of Employment Security said 464,510 claimants have been paid state and/or federal benefits — 43.4% of all claimants.
With the state’s UI Trust Fund at close to $3.85 billion before the brunt of the pandemic began to be felt, 12.5% of that money had been used as of Tuesday morning.
As for the state legislature, the initial version of N.C. Senate Bill 704, filled April 28, included a temporary $50 increase in the maximum state UI benefit, raising it to $400, on Aug. 1 and relaxed some qualification standards. Those proposed changes were removed in the compromise negotiations at the request of the N.C. House.
After a GOP supermajority in the legislature changed the state’s unemployment law in May 2013, $350 is the maximum amount beneficiaries can receive in jobless benefits, and 12 weeks is the maximum number of weeks they can collect.
“With federal money going away, we need to look at whether we want to up the amount of insurance we want to provide for people,” Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper said Monday.
Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said Monday that he felt confident the Senate’s proposed increase in weekly UI payments would be considered once the legislative session resumes the week of May 18.
Because state unemployment benefits are on a sliding scale, the number of weeks can rise up to 20 weeks when the state unemployment rate is 9% or higher — which economists say it is highly likely to be exceeded by either the April or May jobless reports.
However, the sliding scale is only activated twice a year on Jan. 1 and July 1 — both based on the average rate for first three months of a six-month cycle. That means January through March for the July 1 trigger, and July, August and September for the Jan. 1 trigger.
“We certainly want to assess where we stand with unemployment insurance trust fund over the next few weeks,” N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said Monday. “I’m certainly open to consideration of all options.”
N.C. House Bill 1061, introduced Wednesday by state Rep. William Richardson, D-Cumberland, would remove the sliding scale and restore North Carolina’s maximum number of benefit weeks to 26.
It also would raise the maximum weekly benefit to $425, still below the $530 a week in state UI benefits provided before the law was changed in 2013.
The bill also would put into law providing short-term UI benefit compensation for employees whose employers reduces their normal hours of work per week, such as in a furlough situation.