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Initial and continuing unemployment claims drop slightly in Oklahoma, nation

Data released Thursday by the U.S. Labor Department and the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission showed the COVID-19 pandemic maintains a grip on the economy across the state and nation.

But the data also shows a week-over-week improvement.

In Oklahoma, 150,084 residents are receiving continued compensation through its unemployment insurance program during the week that ended May 30. The previous week, 172,309 were being carried by the program.

About 50,400 Oklahomans filed initial claims during the week ending June 6, down nearly 10,000 from the 60,376 made the previous week.

Nationally, about 1.5 million people filed initial claims, down 355,000 from a revised number of about 1.9 million the week before.

During the week ending May 30, about 21 million Americans were being assisted by unemployment programs, down from about 21.5 million Americans the week before.

The Labor Department estimated the nation’s unemployment rate for the week ending May 30 at 14.4%.

Mark Hamrick, Bankrate.com’s senior economic analyst, noted the pandemic continues to significantly impact the nation’s economy, despite recent trends.

“New claims have declined for 10 straight weeks along with a drop in continuing claims,” Hamrick remarked. “But new claims have topped 1 million for 12 straight weeks.

“The situation remains dire, with the nation’s unemployment rate in the double-digits and joblessness disproportionately affecting women, blacks, Hispanics and teenagers," Hamrick said.

Basically, Hamrick noted the recovery will take time.

“For the economy, Americans’ personal finances and the situation with the virus itself, we still have a long road ahead of us."

In Oklahoma City

Homebase, a company that provides small business owners and operators with various supportive services, estimated this week the economy gained 2.5 million jobs in May, mostly thanks to a 1.2 million jobs increase in the nation’s leisure and hospitality sector.

Additionally, it stated that operational data it maintains on 60,000 Main Street businesses that were active at the beginning of March shows Oklahoma City is on the mend.

The data, which homebase officials stated had been validated by the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, shows that tracked small businesses in Oklahoma City only had 63% of jobs filled that had existed at the beginning of March.

By May 29, that had improved to 84%, ranking the city 25th on the list of best improved for the period.

The change, said Ray Sandza, Homebase’s data and analytics vice president, is “a sign that the small business economy is bouncing back in Oklahoma City.”

OESC update

The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC) did not report how many claims remained backlogged in its system on Thursday.

However, Interim Director Shelley Zumwalt stated Monday the agency had managed to clear a backlog of claims that had been hanging around its system for a month or more.

That doesn’t mean the agency has no pending claims that need resolved, however, because filed claims end up in a pending status daily.

Zumwalt stated Thursday she realizes the agency “has a long way to go” in processing backlogged claims.

The OESC also announced Thursday it had processed claims resulting in payouts worth $591 million in May.

Over April and May, the agency paid out more than $1 billion in benefits, more than what it had paid out in 2018 and 2019 combined, officials reported.

And between May 31 and June 8, agency officials said it processed 67,000 claims covering 194,000 weeks of benefits, paying out a total of $198 million to claimants.

On Thursday, the agency reminded Oklahomans seeking unemployment benefits provided through the CARES Act to visit ui.ok.gov and create an account with the Get Started button to connect their Social Security number and pull all unemployment information into one location.

It advised workers who have returned to full-time employment to keep their unemployment claims active with the OESC by making a weekly filing without certifying they were unemployed.

Workers back on the job as part-time employees, meanwhile, could remain eligible to receive continued benefits, adjusted for however much they earned during a given week.

As for small business operators, independent contractors or gig-economy workers who are back at work, the OESC stated they are still eligible for pandemic unemployment benefits between then and when their COVID-19-related job loss or business closure happened.

It also reminded residents that they could lose their unemployment benefits if they choose not to return to work when they are recalled by employers.

“I know Oklahomans are facing tough decisions and some are still having issues with our system,” Zumwalt said. “I want you to know we’re working on processing your claims day and night — we haven’t forgotten about you.”

Jack Money

Jack Money has worked for The Oklahoman for more than 20 years. During that time, he has worked for the paper’s city, state, metro and business news desks, including serving for a while as an assistant city editor. Money has won state and regional... Read more ›

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