Continuing unemployment claims remain near 120,000, national unemployment rate estimated at 11.1%
Nearly 120,000 Oklahomans received unemployment assistance during the second week of July as businesses continue to contend with pandemic-caused disruption.
There was a revised count for Oklahoma’s idled workers receiving continued assistance during the previous week, rising from 122,452 to 131,932, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Labor Department.
Oklahoma’s system continues to pick up new claims as well, though at a much slower rate than what previously was seen following the initial outbreak of COVID-19.
Data shows 8,579 people filed initial claims for assistance during the week ending July 18, a decrease of 1,101 from the previous week.
Nationally, about 17.2 million idled traditional workers were getting continued assistance during the week ending July 4 from state/territorial unemployment compensation programs. Another 13.2 million self-employed and gig economy workers received help from those programs through the CARES Act’s pandemic unemployment assistance fund.
The Labor Department data showed more than 31.8 million Americans received assistance through all unemployment related programs during that week.
The four-week moving average for continued assistance claims was about 17.5 million. That number peaked the first week of May, when 25 million Americans were drawing assistance.
In Oklahoma, the number of continued assistance claims peaked in mid-June at about 180,000. For the week ending July 11, it was 118,589.
The U.S. Labor Department estimated Thursday that unemployment nationally was 11.1% for the week ending July 11.
The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, the agency that operates the unemployment insurance program for state residents, announced Thursday it helped more than 8,000 Oklahomans resolve issues with their assistance claims during special events the agency held the past several weeks in Midwest City and Tulsa.
It plans to hold additional events from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Ardmore Convention Center, 2401 N Rockford Road, on July 29 and 30, aiming to serve an additional 2,000 people seeking to get issues fixed with their claims.
Meanwhile, staff at the state’s 27 regional offices are continuing to see claimants in person — with masks required and social distancing in effect. Those staff members, officials said, can assist Oklahomans with the same issues as are being handled at the special events, including Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, fraudulent claims, technological assistance, unemployment insurance and initial claims filing.
Each of the regional offices, called Job Centers, also have information about local work opportunities and how to access needed services available where claimants live.
Job Center locations are online at oklahomaworks.gov.
Officials said Thursday other changes the agency has implemented recently have improved its ability to handle assistance requests over the phone, noting those changes have boosted first-call resolutions by 40%.
“We still have work to do, but the progress we’ve made has impacted thousands of people, and we’re proud of our efforts,” Shelley Zumwalt, the agency’s interim director, said Thursday.
“We have taken a unique approach to help as many Oklahomans as possible with these claims processing events,” she continued, noting the work the agency has done at the special events have reduced congestion on the agency’s phone system and freed up more staff members to get more done.
“This approach has worked in a way that will provide long-term relief to families across our state,” she said.
More help on the way?
The pandemic continues to create trouble spots across much of the nation, leaving Congress and the White House in agreement that the U.S. government must do more to support the economy.
But, the House, Senate and White House have to agree on what types of additional support will be provided.
A funding measure approved by the House earlier this summer included an extension of the CARES Act-provided Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program, which provides unemployment insurance claimants an extra $600 a week.
Under existing law, that benefit expires at the end of this week.
Senate Republicans, however, have argued that continuing that incentive could influence many Americans to continue to file for unemployment instead of returning to work.
Stimulus checks to individuals and a continuation of targeted programs that aim to support businesses also are being discussed.
The CARES Act also authorized an extension of traditional unemployment compensation to idled Americans through the end of this year.
While benefits under that program normally would be exhausted after 26 weeks, the CARES Act authorizes states to extend those benefits for an additional 13 weeks.
Once a claimant in Oklahoma exhausts normal benefits, he or she would need to go through the process to file a claim at unemployment.ok.gov for those extended benefits, officials have said.
Its Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for self-employed and gig workers also continues through the end of the year, officials have said.