Oklahoma jobless claims fall, remain at historic highs

Michael Smith
First time jobless claims started to rise in March and peaked at the end of April, according to data from the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. Last week, claims fell to under 24,000 but continue to dwarf numbers seen before the pandemic.

Initial jobless claims in Oklahoma last week fell by more than 15,000 from the week before. While unadjusted and four-week averages indicate a slowing in requests for assistance, while unemployment linked to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting oil industry crisis continues to dwarf historical numbers.

Unadjusted first-time claims for the week ending May 16 fell to 23,880, down from the previous adjusted week of 39,079, according to the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Thursday. For comparison, initial unemployment claims in Oklahoma had remained under 5,000 per week since 2011 and four-week averages regularly hovered below 3,000 in that span of time.

Numbers are down significantly compared to spikes in March and April as workers continue to deal with coronavirus-related business closures. Weekly claims have topped 60,000 at times and officials link many requests to additional assistance as it becomes available, like Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation.

“Some of last week’s initial claims can be attributed to individuals who don’t qualify for regular unemployment and to claimants filing for extended unemployment benefits known as PUA and PEUC relief,” said Secretary for Digital Transformation David Ostrowe. “It’s good to see the numbers declining even though initial claims for unemployment remain at historic levels.”

Continued claims also remain high. More than 130,000 job seekers requested unemployment insurance benefits after their initial claim, which was down from the previous week’s revised level of 178,122. The 45,000 decrease from week to week is more than twice the amount of continued unemployment claims made during the first week of March.

“Oklahoma is reopening more and more everyday as the engine of our state’s economy revs up,” Ostrowe said in a Thursday statement. “It’s important that individuals with COVID-19 related job loss return to work when recalled.”

More than $736 million in total benefits have been paid to claimants during the COVID-19 and Oil Industry crises, according to a statement. More than 450,000 Oklahomans have filed for unemployment relief and more than 14,000 claims have been identified as fake.

“Tier 2 agents will be working Memorial Day making outbound calls to claimants to resolve issues on their applications for relief,” Ostrowe said.

April unemployment data with county-level unemployment rates is expected to be released Friday.