Another 30,000-plus Arizonans filed for unemployment benefits this past week, a sign that the state economy is far from recovery.
The new first-time claims are about 7,000 above the prior week and bring to more than 631,000 the number of Arizonans who records of the state Department of Economic Security show have sought unemployment compensation since the middle of March.
That’s on top of another 189,000 who the agency said applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a special federally funded program for the self-employed, contract workers and others ineligible for regular state benefits.
That figure may include some who had previously applied for those regular benefits but then sought PUA when they were rejected.
It was the middle of March when Gov. Doug Ducey imposed restrictions on business operations, following by his stay-at-home order.
Some of those outright bans are now gone, replaced with requirements for distancing and other restrictions. But those in turn have limited the number of customers for some establishments, particularly bars and restaurants – a sector of the economy that has been among the hardest hit.
Other businesses continue to suffer, even with permission to reopen, as they find many Arizonans are still hesitant about going to crowded places or get into airplanes.
And the latter has a ripple effect on the hotel industry which has seen employment cut close to just half of levels of a year ago.
The new numbers come as the official unemployment rate reported last week dropped from 13.4 percent in April to 8.9 percent in May. That would seem to run counter to an increasing number of claims for benefits.
But state officials acknowledged – as has the federal of Bureau of Labor Statistics – that there has been a misclassification of certain people as working. When that is factored out, the actual jobless rate for Arizona last month was 11 percent.
The COVID-19 outbreak also has curbed the ability to get people to respond to the survey of 60,000 households nationwide – between 1,200 and 1,300 of those in Arizona – asking if they are working and, if not, whether they are looking.
In January, that response rate was 80 percent. By May it had dropped to 59.1 percent.
The official employment numbers reflect what was going on more than a month ago; the figures from DES indicate more current trends of people seeking benefits.
Complicating all that is how DES keeps its own numbers of those filing claims.
On paper, the agency says there have been more than 700,000 first-time claims for regular benefits.
DES spokesman Brett Bezio said that by his agency’s reckoning, there actually have been about 631,000 “unduplicated’’ initial claims.
Part of the difference may be due to how some companies furlough workers.
For example, a firm may require employees to take off one week without pay every four weeks. During that week, the person is eligible for benefits.
The following week there are no benefits as the person is back on the job – until several weeks later when he or she is again without work or salary.
Bezio said some people may simply reopen their existing claims while others may file a new claim.
That on-again, off-again employment also has ripple effects through the unemployment rate which is calculated based on that household survey taken during the seven-day period starting the 12th day of each month.
Workers who are off that week are counted if they were chosen in the survey while those who were off the prior week or the following week are not.
All this comes while DES Security is reporting new cases of fraud as the agency is being flooded with claims, legitimate and otherwise.
Efforts to combat that, in turn, delayed sending out checks as scheduled on Monday.
“We understand that this additional processing may create additional hardships for you and your family,’’ DES said in a Twitter post. “We thank you for your patience and partnership in safeguarding unemployment assistance for Arizonans.’’