Maine’s new jobless claims up slightly

New state unemployment claims in Maine ticked up slightly last week, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s weekly report.

There were 1,562 new applications for state unemployment benefits filed for the week that ended June 19 – an increase of 207 from the previous week, the federal agency reported.

But the slight uptick in state jobless claims was offset by a decline in new requests for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. There were 99 claims for PUA last week, a drop of 199 from the prior week, according to the report.

Meanwhile, continuing jobless claims – which lag behind a week but are viewed as a barometer of the unemployment situation – totalled 9,434 in the week ending June 12, a decline of 866 from the prior week.

Maine has distributed more than $2.2 billion in state and federal jobless benefits to about 370,000 jobless workers during the pandemic, according to state data.

The state’s non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped slightly to 5.3% in April after adding 1,200 jobs that month, according to the Maine Department of Labor.

That’s down from a high of 9.1% last April but still higher than the state’s average 3% unemployment rate throughout 2019.

A report released earlier this week by the Maine Department of Revenue said the number of nonfarm jobs in May had increased 52,800 from a year-ago. The largest gains over the year were in the sectors most impacted by the pandemic, including leisure and hospitality, retail trade, and healthcare and social assistance, the agency reported.

Despite that, Maine businesses are struggling to fill tens of thousands of jobs unfilled as the busy summer tourist season approaches.

Gov. Janet Mills has taken steps in recent weeks to lure workers back to their jobs amid a shortage of labor as the state eases COVID-19 restrictions and reopens its economy.

The state has re-instituted a work search requirement mandating that individuals receiving jobless benefits actively look for work and accept positions for which they are “reasonably qualified.” Those who refuse to accept an offer can lose their unemployment benefits.

Last week, Mills rolled out a Back to Work” program that provides a one-time, $1,500 payment for eligible workers who begin new jobs between June 15 and June 30, and $1,000 for eligible workers who start jobs in July.

To qualify, workers must have received unemployment compensation as recently as the week ending May 29 and accept a full-time job that pays less than $25 per hour. Workers must keep their job for at least eight weeks.

Nationally, 411,000 new jobless claims were filed in the week that ended June 19, a decrease of 7,000 claims from the previous week, according to the labor department.

Continuing claims, which lag behind a week, dropped substantially by 144,000 to 3.39 million nationally for the week that ended June 12. The numbers likely reflect that a number of states have ended participation in federal employment programs.

More than 14.8 million Americans were still receiving state or federal jobless benefits in the week ending June 5, the agency reported.

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