Initial claims for state unemployment benefits decreased for the sixth consecutive week in Maine but remained more than twice as high as a year earlier.

Mainers filed 2,025 initial claims last week under the state’s jobless aid program, down from 2,158 a week earlier, but still far more than the 790 initial claims filed during the week ending Feb. 15, 2020, according to a report issued Thursday by the Maine Department of Labor.

Another 450 initial claims were filed in Maine last week for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, an increase from 300 federal claims a week earlier. Still, the total number of Mainers filing initial state or federal claims last week decreased to 2,700 from 2,800 the previous week. The weekly number of claims filed often is larger than the number of claimants because of overlap between state and federal benefit programs.

Recently, the number of initial claims for state jobless benefits has declined in Maine from a high of more than 3,900 in the beginning of January to 2,025 last week. After hitting a peak of about 31,000 initial claims filed during the week ending April 4, 2020, the number of new claims declined rapidly to as low as 1,085 during the week ending Aug. 8, before slowly climbing again as a seasonal labor market crunch occurred in late fall and early winter.

But weekly claims for continued jobless benefits are still as high as they were last summer and are more than double what they were at the same time last year. About 49,500 claims were filed last week for continued unemployment benefits, down just slightly from 49,800 continuing claims a week earlier. Still, continuing claims are down sharply from their peak of nearly 162,000 during the week ending May 30, 2020.

Since March 15, 2020, the state Labor Department has paid out over $1.89 billion in federal and state unemployment benefits, it said Thursday.

The department has handled roughly 237,200 initial claims for the state unemployment program and 108,800 initial claims for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. There have been over 3.3 million weekly certifications filed since March 15, it said.

The department also announced Thursday that it has received $1.2 million from the U.S. Department of Labor to “continue to combat identity theft unemployment insurance fraud through identity verification.”

Nationally, the number of claims for unemployment aid rose last week to 861,000, evidence that layoffs remain painfully high despite a steady drop in the number of confirmed viral infections, The Associated Press reported.

Applications from laid-off workers rose by 13,000 from the previous week, according to the AP. Before the virus erupted in the United States last March, weekly applications for unemployment benefits had never topped 700,000, even during the Great Recession of 2008-2009, it said.

The job market has stalled, with employers having added a mere 49,000 jobs in January after cutting workers in December, the AP reported. Nationally, nearly 10 million jobs remain lost to the pandemic, it said.


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