Ohio Unemployment Claims Dip to 21K

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services reports 20,969 new jobless claims were filed last week, down roughly 5,000 from the week before.

In addition, 374,751 continued claims were filed for the week ended Aug. 8. 

Over the past 21 weeks, since the coronavirus pandemic began affecting the state, 1,604,708 claims for unemployment benefits have been filed. Job and Family Services has disbursed $5.9 billion in unemployment compensation to more than 778,000 Ohioans, with 94% of claims processed. The department has also issued $5 billion in pandemic unemployment assistance to 514,000 claimants.

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor reports 29,371 unemployment claims were filed for the week ended Aug. 1, the most recent week for which information is available. In total, the state has received 1,973,042 claims since the pandemic began.

The department has paid $4.3 billion in unemployment compensation and $4.2 billion in pandemic unemployment assistance.

Nationwide, 963,000 workers filed jobless claims, marking the first time in five months that the weekly total has dipped below the 1 million mark. It marks the second consecutive weekly decline, but is still well above the pre-pandemic weekly record of 700,000.

The viral pandemic keeps forcing layoffs just as the expiration of a $600-a-week federal jobless benefit has deepened the hardships for many.

The pandemic, the shutdowns that are meant to fight it and the reluctance or inability of many people to shop, travel or eat out are continuing to weaken the economy and force companies to cut staff. Twenty-three states have paused or reversed their business re-openings. In a hopeful sign, the rate of new confirmed viral cases has declined in the past couple of weeks, though it remains far above the rates that prevailed in May and June.

All told, fewer people are also continuing to receive state jobless aid. That figure dropped to 15.5 million, from 16.1 million the previous week.

For months, the unemployed had also been receiving the $600 a week in federal jobless aid on top of their state benefit. But the federal payment has expired, and negotiations in Congress to extend that benefit, likely at a lower level of payment, have collapsed in rancor.

The supplemental federal aid had enabled many jobless Americans to afford rent, food and utilities, and its expiration threatens to weaken consumer spending and further slow the economy. Unemployment benefits have accounted for roughly 5% of national income since April, a larger share than even Social Security. The loss of the $600 has shrunk benefits for the average recipient by one-half to three-quarters. 

Michelle Meyer, an economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, says that the loss of the additional aid will reduce Americans’ incomes by $18 billion a week.

“That’s a big hit to purchasing power,” she said.

Last week, President Donald Trump issued an executive order that would provide $300 a week in federal aid to the jobless to replace the expired $600-a-week benefit. But experts say it would take weeks for the states to implement that payment. 

In addition to people who applied last week for state benefits, nearly 489,000 others sought jobless aid under a new program that has made self-employed and gig workers eligible for the first time. That figure isn’t adjusted for seasonal trends, so it’s reported separately. 

But including that group, the Labor Department says 28.2 million people are receiving some form of unemployment benefits, though that figure may be inflated by double-counting by some states.

For states to set up systems to distribute a new $300 federal jobless benefit, their labor departments would need more guidance from the federal government, noted Michele Evermore, a senior researcher at the National Employment Law Project. The money, which is supposed to come from a federal disaster relief fund, would likely require states to hire more people and possibly contract with software vendors to establish a system to process the payments, Evermore said. 

“I can’t imagine that this goes up in less than a month anywhere,” she said. 

After the pandemic hit, Congress approved a $2 trillion aid package. Among other things, it provided the $600-a-week benefit and made self-employed and gig workers newly eligible for unemployment aid. 

Both programs required the states to create new processing systems while handling a crush of benefit applications. That influx resulted in huge backlogs and left millions of the unemployed frustrated by their inability to access benefits. Washington state, for one, eventually called in National Guard troops to help process applications. 

In the meantime, with confirmed virus cases still high, it’s not clear when business owners will be able to reopen or will have enough customers to rehire. 

Grace Della is one of them. She opened her food tour business in Miami a decade ago with $300 from her mother. On weekends, she led the tours herself and eventually built up a business with 13 tour guides, averaging 10 tours a day through culinary hot spots in South Beach and Little Havana.

Yet with the risk of infection still high and with scant customer demand, it’s been more than four months since Miami Culinary Tours has taken out guests, and Della, 46, says she doesn’t expect to recall her employees anytime soon.

She hopes to reopen later this month but isn’t sure she can, given the state’s high level of confirmed infections. Della said she tries to stay positive but confesses to moments of crippling fear. At one point, hyperventilating with anxiety, she contacted firefighters.

“There’s no money coming in,” Della said. “We’re all scared.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.