New unemployment claims across Louisiana continued to slow down and dropped by nearly 29% last week, while those continuing to receive jobless benefits nudged past the 326,000 mark toward leveling off soon.
There were 28,545 newly filed claims across the state for the week ending May 16, down from 40,125 in new claims the week before, the Louisiana Workforce Commission reported Thursday. By comparison, only 2,296 initial claims were filed for the week ending May 18 in 2019.
There are still 326,504 people across the state receiving unemployment checks as of May 16, up from 325,136 continuing claims the week before and 310,013 two weeks ago.
The small uptick in continued unemployment claims this week, while admittedly tiny, "is the most hopeful data point I’ve seen so far, but there’s a long road ahead," said Stephen Barnes, associate professor of economics at University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
"We've seen a lot of shifting in the labor market now that there are businesses which have come back online. It's led to a good stabilization at least," Barnes said.
"We still have more people on unemployment insurance than at any other point. We're still in crisis," said Ava Dejoie, executive director at the Louisiana Workforce Commission.
Next week's data will show how many workers are still filing claims after the Phase 1 reopening started May 15, Barnes said.
Since business restrictions in Louisiana were eased last Friday, “it is impossible to determine if the Phase 1 reopening had any effect on the total number of initial claims filed,” the department said in a statement.
"I think one of the challenges is predicting," Dejoie said. "If the pandemic has taught us anything, it's that we don't know what the future holds," she said.
The number of new claims being filed each week has been dropping steadily for the past month. At the peak, 102,172 people filed for unemployment the week ending April 4 after the state's mid-March stay-at-home order shut down or restricted business activity to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. There was another spike of 91,923 claims for the week ending April 18. Since then, first-time claims have been on the decline and moving toward a leveling off.
The state pays a maximum $247 per week for unemployment, with the federal government kicking in an additional $600 per week from a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package passed by Congress.
While other states have exhausted their trust fund balance for available benefits, Louisiana still has about $800 million in its fund, down from $1 billion earlier this year.
New York, California and Texas are among states that have applied for federal funding to replenish dwindling trust funds.
Dejoie noted there are about 9,000 job postings on the workforce commission's website with employers across the state, so some companies are still expanding despite the economic downturn, she said.
In the latest jobless claims report, every industry sector saw a dwindling number of first-time claims and have been steadily dropping since March 21, records show.
Some industries have been hit much harder than others. About 60% of workers in accommodation and food services filed initial claims, but some may have recently returned to the workforce.
More than 4,600 workers in accommodation and food services filed new claims last week. That's far from when 28,994 workers in that industry lost their jobs in the week ending March 21.
Another 3,320 in retail trade filed for unemployment, down from a peak of 13,297 workers filing for unemployment for the week ending April 4.
There were another 3,302 job losses in health care and social assistance, down from a peak of 13,250 new claims for the week ending April 4.
While health care and social services may not seem like industries that would be hit hard during the economic downturn, the temporary restriction on elective medical procedures furloughed many in the primary care and independent physicians group practices, Barnes said.
Meanwhile, there wasn't a huge spike in new unemployment claims in the oil and gas sector, which is surprising considering the unstable economic outlook and low price of oil.
"We may have avoided the worst of it with the oil and gas industry," Barnes said.