Initial jobless claims jumped 80% two weeks ago in the state, the largest numeric increase in first-time claims in the nation, which local officials are attributing at least in part to fraud.
The U.S. Department of Labor reported last week that 15,545 initial jobless claims were filed in the state for the week ending Saturday, compared to 6,901 who filed the prior week.
The 80% increase in weekly claims is also the largest rate of increase in weekly claims in the state since the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
State officials blamed the large increase in initial jobless claims on fraudsters trying to scoop up federal benefits before they disappear.
“The relatively large increases in initial and continued claims this week are the result of fraudulent activity coupled with the approaching end of federal benefits,” said Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt. “Fraudsters are increasing their activity nationwide to try and catch the last federal dollars, but we are aware of this fraud and are taking steps to identify and curb this activity.
“I think it’s important to note that these numbers are claims filed, not claims processed and paid out.”
Meanwhile, continued claims, or those filed after one week of unemployment, increased 43%, or from 20,259 the week ending May 8 to 28,902 claims the following week.
The increase in claims comes as Oklahoma gets closer to ending its participation in temporary federal jobless benefit programs, one of which provided $300 weekly supplemental payments.
Echoing a move by other Republican governors, Gov. Kevin Stitt announced earlier this month that he was ending the state’s participation in the supplemental federal payment programs.
In its place, the state is offering a $1,200 stipend to the first 20,000 applicants who meet the program criteria.
The $300 per week payment, plus unemployment benefits for contract and gig workers, will end June 26.
About 90,000 Oklahomans at the time were receiving the additional $300 benefit.
Other claims data released indicates initial jobless claim filings by gig and contract workers more than doubled, too, with filings increasing from 5,439 claims logged the week ending May 15 to 12,263 claims the following week.
Continued Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims, those filed after one week of unemployment, also increased from 19,409 the week ending May 1 to 20,801 the following week.
All this comes as initial claims declined nationwide by 38,000 to 406,000, according to seasonally adjusted figures.
Seven of the approximately 23 states that are ending their participation in the federal benefit programs saw an increase in initial claims last week.
Early in the pandemic, state officials blamed fraudsters for filing hundreds of thousands of fake jobless claims. Since then, state officials have revamped the state’s unemployment benefits website and processes to cut down on fraudulent claims.
In other OESC news, the agency announced it would hold additional job fairs in Tulsa and Oklahoma City as the federal benefits are discontinued.
Dates for the job fairs were not announced other than they will be at the end of the month.