Initial jobless claims in the state declined last week by 11% compared to the prior week although weekly totals are still well above pre-pandemic levels.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that 8,579 workers in the state filed first-time claims for unemployment insurance compensation last week, according to unadjusted figures.

That’s 1,101 fewer than filed initial claims the prior week and the third consecutive week claims were under 10,000, according to revised figures from the Labor Department.

The decrease in new claims could shrink, though, next week when officials revise figures released this week. For instance, the initial claims figure released last week was increased by more than 1,000 when those figures were revised this week.

Still, the number of initial claims last week is a far cry from early May when the state and nation set records in claims during what was then considered the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the peak, the state recorded nearly 94,000 first-time jobless claims during the week ending May 2.

Since mid-March, more than 815,000 workers have filed first-time claims in Oklahoma.

The latest figures come as the OESC wraps up two weeks of in-person benefit processing at the River Spirit Expo in Tulsa. The agency has helped over 8,000 workers over the past month file claims during in-person processing events held in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas.

The agency will be holding another mass processing event Wednesday and Thursday at the Ardmore Convention Center.

Claimants can continue to seek in-person help at any of the 27 OESC regional offices.

Officials also announced Thursday they were eliminating the tiered ranking system for claims cases.

Many have had their request for unemployment insurance compensation elevated to a Tier 2 or higher status after the original OESC call taker was unable to help the claimant resolve an issue with their case.

The change has resulted in 40% more cases being resolved on the first call, officials said.

“We still have work to do, but the progress we’ve made has impacted thousands of people, and we’re proud of our efforts,” said OESC Interim Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt. “We have taken a unique approach to help as many Oklahomans as possible with these claims processing events.

Complicating matters has been an unemployment claim processing system that has been ridiculed by unemployed workers who tried to use it, and exploited by those trying to deceive it.

Zumwalt said last week an estimated 89,000 claims, 1 in 9, are believed to be fraudulent.

The decline in state claims comes as the U.S. registered its first increase in weekly claims in nearly four months.

The Labor Department said 1,416,000 workers in the U.S. filed initial claims during the week ending Saturday. The number of claims filed the week earlier totaled 1,307,000, according to seasonally adjusted data.

Meanwhile, continued unemployment claims in the state also declined from 131,932 during the week ending July 4 to 118,589 the week ending July 11.

A person who has already filed an initial claim and who has experienced a week of unemployment then files a continued claim to claim benefits for that week of unemployment.

The state reported no first-time claims last week were filed for relief under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, designed largely for the self-employed, who typically don’t qualify for unemployment compensation.

The state recorded nearly 2,000 first-time PUA claims were filed the prior week.

While the PUA program runs until the end of 2020, the $600 weekly benefit provided to workers in addition to regular state payments will expire Saturday, unless Congress extends it.

The state recorded an increase in the number of claims filed under the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which provides an extra 13 weeks of benefits when regular benefits have been exhausted.

As with PUA, the program which provided an extra $600 weekly federal benefit will also expire Saturday unless extended by Congress, which has been working on a relief bill of some type.

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Curtis Killman 918-581-8471

Twitter: @loucardfan61

Staff Writer

Curtis is a member of the Projects Team with an emphasis on database analysis. He also covers federal court news, maintains the Tulsa World database page and develops online interactive graphics. Phone: 918-581-8471