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Unemployment claims in Colorado continue to drop; more than 500,000 have sought aid since coronavirus began

There were 12,149 unemployment claims filed last week by people traditionally eligible for jobless benefits, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment

The Fox Theater in Montrose is closed as life in Colorado shuts down in response to the new coronavirus. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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The number of people filing for unemployment in Colorado dropped last week for a seventh straight week, continuing a trend that began in late April as businesses began reopening after the height of the state’s coronavirus crisis.

There were 12,149 unemployment claims filed last week by people traditionally eligible for jobless benefits, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. That was down from 15,603 claims submitted the week before.

Last week there were also 6,414 claims filed by gig workers and the self-employed, who are eligible for relief under Congress’ coronavirus aid package.

More than 517,000 unemployment claims — both from those traditionally eligible and gig and self-employed workers — have been filed in Colorado since COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, slammed into the state in March.

Cher Haavind, the labor agency’s deputy executive director, said Thursday that new tools and better communication has kept benefits flowing, with more than 80% of those who qualify for unemployment receiving a payment.

Still, as the state began accepting appointments on Monday for on-site help at the labor agency’s Denver lobby, more than 600 people have made an appointment, which are scheduled from to start June 8 through July 3.

The most common issue unemployed workers is losing benefits because they did not regularly request them. They don’t realize they’re supposed to check at least every other week to show they’re looking for a job or working on their skills. People on unemployment must request payment, she said.

“Unfortunately, if they don’t continue to certify their claim could close because it makes our system thinks that they have returned to work and are no longer needing unemployment benefits,” Haavind said.

To reopen a claim, a worker can go here: smartfile.coworkforce.com/Start.

Colorado continues to pay record-high levels of unemployment benefits out to people normally eligible for relief. Last week, the state distributed $86.2 million, compared to the $8.7 million average paid out in the weeks before the crisis began.

During the height of the Great Recession, the state paid out $19 million on an average weekly basis.

The payouts have taken a toll on the state’s unemployment trust fund, which gets its funding from employers who pay unemployment insurance premiums. The trust fund had about $1.1 billion before the start of coronavirus job disruptions.

On Thursday, Ryan Gedney, the labor department’s senior economist, said there was about $625 to $650 million left. About $100 to $120 million will be added back into the fund during the second quarter as businesses reopen and bring back workers.

That leaves more money in the fund than Gedney anticipated a few weeks ago. But, he added, it’s still likely to run out of money in late July or August.

“As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, if the trust fund does go insolvent, claimants will not see an interruption in their benefit payments,” Gedney said.

More: Colorado’s unemployment fund could run out of money next month

As businesses reopen, the labor department has seen an increase in job refusals filed by employers who aren’t able to get furloughed workers to return to work. But 83% of the 1,200 job refusals were deemed valid excuses by the state because such workers are part of a vulnerable population or cared for someone at risk.

But 220 furloughed workers did not have a valid excuse so they lost their unemployment benefits.

Across the U.S., 1.9 million people applied for unemployment last week, evidence that many employers are still cutting jobs even as the gradual reopening of businesses has slowed the pace of layoffs.

The total number of people who are receiving jobless aid rose slightly to 21.5 million, down from a peak of nearly 25 million two weeks ago but still at a historically high level. The numbers show that scattered rehiring is offsetting only some of the ongoing layoffs with the economy mired in a recession. Thursday’s latest weekly number from the Labor Department is still more than double the record high that prevailed before the viral outbreak.

Since mid-March, 42.7 million people have applied for unemployment benefits. Not all of them are still unemployed, though. Some have since been rehired. And some laid-off people, it turns out, filed duplicate applications for benefits as they struggled with unresponsive state unemployment systems.

The depth of the job cuts since the virus forced the widespread shutdown of businesses reflects an economy gripped by the worst downturn since the Great Depression. The economy is thought to be shrinking in the April-June quarter at an annual rate approaching 40%. That would be, by far, the worst quarterly contraction on record.

Colorado’s unemployment rate was 11.3% in April.

Colorado unemployment resources

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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