Closures

A sign reads "See You Soon" in the window of Oakridge Barbers on Friday, April 17, 2020, in Ogden. Barbershops, among other businesses in Weber County, have been directed to close for now to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Such measures, impacting varied sectors, have contributed to increasing jobless claims.

SALT LAKE CITY — Weekly jobless claims in Weber and Davis counties and the rest of the state are tapering from the unprecedented highs reached in recent weeks.

But the latest figures, released Thursday by the Utah Department of Workforce Services, still far exceed the average for 2019, reflecting the hit the economy has taken due to business closures and other measures meant to safeguard against the coronavirus. And calls to 211, the telephonic hotline managed by United Way of Salt Lake, reflect higher-than-normal need for social services across the state. 

New jobless claims for the week ending April 18 totaled 1,942 in Weber County, down from 2,419 the week before and 2,506 on April 4. Still, it represents a huge jump over the 128 claims made the week ending March 14, before implementation of the coronavirus-inspired restrictions that have hit the economy.

They totaled 1,897 in Davis County as of April 18, down from 2,315 the week before and 3,006 on April 4. As in Weber County, though, the new number still reflects a big jump from 112 on March 14, suggesting the economy is still reeling.

Jobless claims have spiked as the economic slowdown caused by coronavirus-inspired restrictions has prompted employers to shed jobs. "We've received calls from both employees and employers asking about help," said Rob Sant, economic development director for Davis County.

Kevin Burt, unemployment insurance division director for the Utah Department of Workforce Services, said he's encouraged by the decline in claims as of April 18, "though we continue to receive them at record levels." New claims statewide totaled 19,751 as of April 18, down from 24,171 but still a big jump over the 1,131 weekly average in 2019. Nearly $60 million in benefits was paid out for the week, including the $600 per claimant coming from the feds per the CARES Act.

Jobless claims aren't the only indicator of the sputtering economy. Calls to 211, the hotline meant to connect Utahns with the social services they need, jumped in March as jobless claims started surging.

According to figures supplied to the Standard-Examiner, the 211 call volume across Utah increased 31% in March compared to the same month last year. Housing concerns accounted for 18% of the calls, and requests for income support accounted for another 18%. Next came food concerns, accounting for 17% of calls.

Between March 9 and April 21, 211 calls about housing also topped the list in Weber County, according to the figures. Next were calls about food and then income support.

Weber and Davis County economic development officials say despite it all, there are jobs to be had. Darren Rogers, a Department of Workforce Services specialist in Ogden, has been directing those seeking work to Compass Career Fairs, a privately run online compendium of job opportunities across Northern Utah. As the economy has faltered due to the coronavirus, it has offered its online services for free.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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