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Initial unemployment claims plummet more than 50%, lowest this year
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Initial unemployment claims plummet more than 50%, lowest this year

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Employment Security Commission Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt announces a $1,200 return-to-work incentive for unemployed Oklahomans at a news conference on May 17.

The number of initial state unemployment claims dropped more than 50% last week, marking their lowest seven-day total this year, according to a government report.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that 3,562 Oklahoma workers filed first-time claims last week, which is fewer than half the revised figure of 7,787 people who filed initial claims the prior week.

The last time Oklahoma saw a first-time claims number this low was the week ending Dec. 26, when the DOL reported 3,500 initial claims were filed. The figure would later be revised upward to 5,031.

Other claim news was similar, with continued claims, those filed after at least one week of unemployment, also declining, according to the latest figures.

Continued claims dropped from a revised 40,315 the week ending July 3 to 34,446 the following week. Still, it should be noted that continued claims are still more than double the number the week before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold here.

Looking longer term, the four-week moving average of initial claims also dropped from 8,944 the week ending July 3 to 8,237 the following week, the lowest total since late March.

The four-week moving average of continued claims was largely unchanged, from 36,383 the week ending July 3 to 36,396 the following week, with the latter figure double the moving average just two months ago.

Meanwhile, 110,000 American gig and contract workers in other states received Pandemic Unemployment Assistance last week. Oklahoma was one of 11 states that issued zero to few checks for the second consecutive week for PUA. Gov. Kevin Stitt ended the state’s participation in temporary federal benefits linked to the COVID-19 pandemic in late June.

In its place, the state has implemented a program to pay those finding employment $1,200 if they meet the Back to Work Initiative requirements.

The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission said Thursday that more than 25,000 workers had filed for the incentive payment but that most were not approved because the applicant did not receive unemployment benefits during one of the first two weeks in May. Others were rejected due to issues with submitted photos or conflicting application information.

Those who filed for benefits during that time period and who work two part-time jobs or one full time job of 32 hours or more per week for six consecutive weeks are eligible for the program.

About 1,500 incentive applications have been approved for the $1,200, officials said Thursday.

Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt said in a statement Thursday that the agency is reaching out to applicants who had an active claim during one of the first two weeks in May to encourage them to apply for the incentive.

“Communications will be coming from the agency to claimants who may be eligible for the initiative but have not yet applied,” Zumwalt said. “We want to ensure that all eligible claimants are able to apply for the $1,200 if they meet the eligibility qualifications.”

The agency said it will not ask individuals to share personal information through an unsecure site, including texting, social media or email. When applying for the initiative, be sure to upload any required personal information only to OESC’s secure website at oklahoma.gov/oesc/individuals.

Zumwalt also commented on a decline in the June state unemployment rate.

“We are thrilled to see that the unemployment rate fell to 3.7% for June, which is the lowest it has been since March 2020,” Zumwalt said. “Although we see the weekly initial and continued claims continue to fluctuate, our state is doing incredibly well and is tied for eighth for the lowest unemployment rate.”

Featured video: Oklahoma Employment Security Commission director on qualifications for $1,200 work incentive

Video from May 17, 2021. OESC Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt talks about $1,200 work incentive

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