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Oklahoma pays $4.4B in unemployment claims since last March

The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission has paid out $4.4 billion in unemployment claims since last March — more than $1 billion more than the agency distributed the entire last decade.

The amount is nearly $1.5 billion more than the previous 10 years combined, state officials said Thursday.

"Since I joined the agency in May 2020, we've placed top priority on improving our services for both employees and employers with a focus on ensuring we are helping Oklahomans in need," said Shelley Zumwalt, OESC Executive Director.

"In the past year, OESC has paid out more in unemployment claims than in the entire previous decade, which was extremely challenging considering the unprecedented number of claims we were processing using 40-year-old technology.

"Our dedicated team members continue to come up with innovative solutions to overcome the challenges," she said.

"Although our state has seen a decline in continued unemployment claims since last June, I recognize that our focus on transforming our digital systems and overall processes must continue so we can better serve our claimants and employers across Oklahoma."

First-time jobless claims in Oklahoma declined 2% last week compared to revised figures from the week prior, according to a government report.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that 5,838 initial-claims for unemployment benefits were filed by Oklahoma workers the week ending Saturday. The number of claims filed last week is 143 fewer than filed the week ending Feb. 20, according to revised, unadjusted figures.

Nationally, 745,000 workers filed initial claims last week, which is 9,000 more than were filed the prior week.

Meanwhile, 29,906 Oklahomans filed continued claims during the week ending Saturday, or about 15% fewer than the 35,118 who filed the prior week, according to revised figures. Continued claims are those filed after one week of unemployment.

The four-week, moving average of continued claims in the state declined for the 36th consecutive week.

Claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the federal temporary program for gig workers and the self-employed, increased by 139 claims, from 410 the week ending Feb. 20 to 549 the following, most recent week.