Jobless claims increased again last week in Oklahoma and still remain 10 times higher than this time two years ago as the state prepares to end its participation in several pandemic-related federal benefit programs.
The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that an estimated 14,479 Oklahoma workers filed initial claims last week for regular jobless benefits, a 14% increase compared to revised figures for the prior week.
The figure does not include those who are receiving benefits after exhausting regular unemployment benefits or pandemic-related benefits for contract and gig workers typically not entitled to jobless benefits.
Regular continued claims, those filed after one week of unemployment, also increased from 21,161 the week ending May 22, to 31,888 the following week, according to seasonally adjusted data.
Meanwhile, an official with the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission said in a news release Thursday that the agency is continuing to focus on connecting job seekers with employers through re-employment services and job fairs.
“We are hopeful that as federal unemployment benefits come to an end this month, we will begin to see decreases in the state’s unemployment numbers,” said OESC Executive Director Shelly Zumwalt.
While initial claims have dropped dramatically since their historic peaks last spring, they are still 10 times higher than the same time two years ago in the state.
In all, about 68,500 Oklahoma workers received continuing jobless benefits of some kind the week ending May 22, the most recent data available for all benefit programs.
The increase in continued claims comes as the state prepares to end its participation in federal temporary pandemic-related jobless programs in hopes it would prod more receiving benefits to return to work.
Programs scheduled to end June 26 in Oklahoma include Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for contract workers and a $300 weekly benefit to all unemployed workers who qualify.
Meanwhile, initial jobless claims nationwide declined by 9,000 to 376,000.
Oklahoma ranked No. 2 among states in most initial claims for the week, second to Illinois with 5,497 initial claims filed for the week ending Saturday.
Nine states, including Oklahoma, reported an increase in initial claims.
In four of the past five weeks, though, initial claims in the state have been revised downward the following week.
State officials attributed a spike in initial claims two week ago to an increase in the number of fraudsters trying to collect federal unemployment benefits before they are phased out.
The OESC also announced last week that it would no longer report unemployment benefit numbers the same day they are released by the Department of Labor.
Rather, the state will wait until the following week after figures are usually revised either upwards or downwards.
In Oklahoma, initial jobless claim figures during the height of the pandemic were usually revised upward the following week.
In recent weeks, initial claims have been revised downward the following week.
OESC also announced it has updated the eligibility requirements for the $1,200 Return-to-Work Incentive. Now, those who work two part-time jobs that equal 32 hours or more with an Oklahoma employer for six consecutive weeks can qualify for the incentive. Previously, only claimants who worked a full-time job of 32 hours a week or more qualified.
“We made this change to ensure that we can accommodate as many individuals as possible as they rejoin the workforce,” said Zumwalt.
For more information about the Return-to-Work Incentive, go to:
Also, the OESC will hold another job fair at the Tulsa Expo Square—River Spirit Expo on June 23.
OESC is also hosting a virtual career fair through the end of June.
Video: Governor announces $1,200 workforce incentive.