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New statewide, regional unemployment claims continue decline

David Floyd • Jun 12, 2020 at 8:00 AM

After a sharp increase in early April, the number of new filings for unemployment in Northeast Tennessee continues to drop.

Northeast Tennessee, which the Tennessee Department of Labor identifies as an eight-county region that includes Washington, Sullivan, Carter and Unicoi counties, saw a peak of 6,419 new unemployment claims during the week ending April 4, which is when the economic fallout from novel coronavirus (COVID-19) was hitting a high point.

New data from the Department of Labor, however, shows that 699 new claims were filed during the week ending June 6, an 89% decrease. That is still several times more than the 81 new claims filed in the region during the week of March 14, which was before the start of the spike.

This trend appears to mirror statewide unemployment data, which shows that the number of new unemployment claims filed in Tennessee hit a high of 116,141 during the week ending April 4 and has now dropped to 21,417, which Tennessee Department of Labor spokesman Chris Cannon said is a “tremendous improvement.”

But, the numbers haven’t returned to normal.

“21,000 claims is typically what we would see in a three-month period during non-pandemic times,” Cannon said, “so while that number is down dramatically from a high of 116,000, it’s still unprecedented to get that many new unemployment claims in a week in Tennessee.”

Across Tennessee, continued claims — those that are still active and are certified weekly — have experienced a steady decline, which started during the week of May 9 at 325,095 and have now dropped to 292,234.

“That most likely is a sign that Tennessee is slowly reopening and people are going back to work,” Cannon said “That’s the best indicator we have right now ... It’s obvious people are going back to work, but the numbers show that tens of thousands of Tennesseans are leaving the unemployment rolls and most likely, we assume, are going back to their jobs.”

Continued claims have also decreased on a regional level, dropping from 17,393 during the week of May 2 to 14,649 during the week of June 6.

Statewide, continued claims during the week of March 14 stood at 16,342, which Cannon said is fairly typical. Although, he added that there tend to be peaks because of seasonal unemployment in January coming out of the Christmas season and in July after schools close for the summer.

Tennessee is continuing to pay unemployment claims using federal money from the coronavirus relief fund approved by Congress. Cannon said that practice will persist through June 30, at which point the state will reassess the situation.

For the past several weeks, Cannon said no Tennessee unemployment compensation payments have come out of the state’s unemployment trust fund, enabling it to continue to gain interest.

Tennessee Department of Finance Commissioner Butch Eley said on May 12 that if unemployment claims continued at the pace they’d progressed during prior weeks and the state didn’t replenish the fund using stimulus money, projections showed Tennessee would extinguish the trust fund by the end of the year. Eley noted that he didn’t believe unemployment claims would maintain that momentum.

During the week of June 6, the state paid about $288 million in unemployment relief stemming from a total of 309,728 claims.