First-call resolutions rising, agency says
OKLAHOMA CITY – First-time claims for jobless benefits declined significantly during the week ending Aug. 1, although more than 100,000 Oklahomans continue to receive unemployment compensation, state officials recently announced.
The U.S. Department of Labor reported 5,720 initial claims for unemployment benefits were filed in Oklahoma during the last week of July. That number was almost three times higher than pre-pandemic first-time claims, but 36% fewer than the 8,927 initial claims that were filed the prior week.
Initial jobless claims have been gradually slowing. The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission reported 7,562 initial claims were filed during the week ending July 4.
First-time filings peaked in early May, when 93,885 initial claims were registered during the week ending May 2, the OESC reported.
Prior to the arrival of COVID-19 and the collapse in the energy industry, triggering massive job losses, no more than 2,000 first-time jobless claims were being filed.
Until these concurrent crises, the previous Oklahoma record was 9,778 initial unemployment claims filed one week in January 1991, ledgers extending back to 1987 reflect.
For the week that ended Aug. 1, the advance unadjusted number of continued unemployment claims was 114,130, which was 13,487 fewer than the previous week. The four-week “moving average” of continued claims totaled 125,203, the sixth consecutive week that metric has declined. Continuing claims in Oklahoma totaled nearly 179,000 in the week that ended June 20.
The federal $600 supplemental unemployment benefit ended in Oklahoma on July 25. However, because the state economy is struggling to regain its footing, the OESC announced on July 27 that for the first time in almost 40 years, 13 weeks of extended benefits would be provided to many regular Unemployment Insurance claimants.
As a result of efficiencies implemented over the past month, as well as from the success in helping thousands through several in-person events in July, OESC has continued to see an increase in first-call resolution, OESC Interim Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt said. Recently, 43% of callers to the agency had their issues resolved through just one call, she said.
In addition, more than 50 people who began training in early July to assist with claims processing needs are halfway through the program. These trainees will begin assisting with claims processing on a supervised basis starting mid-August and fully start in early September, Zumwalt said. “These additional agents will represent a 100% increase in claims agents available to help claimants over the phone.”
UPDATE ON PENDING CLAIMS
The U.S. Department of Labor recently required OESC to change its weekly unemployment claim questions related to COVID-19 and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). These new questions verify that extended claim weeks for regular UI claims are related to the pandemic and qualify for the extended benefits coverage provided by the PEUC program.
If PEUC claims are not related to the pandemic, the claims will be stopped. If a claimant has had his/her claim paused and needs to correct previous responses to these questions, a claims agent can help adjust this manually. This can be done in person or over the phone through any of the 27 regional offices across Oklahoma.
Regional offices in Southwest Oklahoma include:
• Lawton American Job Center: 1711 S.W. 11th St., Lawton, 580-357-3500
• Altus American Job Center: 1115 N. Spurgeon, Altus, 580-482-3262
• Duncan American Job Center: 1927 W. Elk Ave., Duncan, 580-255-8950
• Chickasha American Job Center: 301 S. 2nd St., Chickasha, 405-224-3310
“This DOL change has increased the number of pending unemployment claims we’re seeing in the state,” Zumwalt said. “But we’re still hovering around 5,000 to 12,000 pending claims per week – a major improvement from the 129,000 claims we were looking at when I took over in late May.
“While pending claims will never be zero — it shouldn’t be if we’re running a healthy system blocking fraud claims and other questionable claims — the actions we’re taking to improve our fraud measures, addressing issues as they arise, and increasing the number of trained agents will help Oklahomans get the assistance they need,” Zumwalt said.
CLAIMS DECLINING BUT STILL ELEVATED
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the advance number for seasonally adjusted insured unemployment during the week ending July 25 was 16.1 million, and the four-week moving average was 16.6 million.
For 20 consecutive weeks, new claims for unemployment insurance benefits exceeded one million. Prior to March, the highest-ever weekly total was 695,000.
In the week that ended Aug. 1, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial unemployment claims was 1,186,000, a decrease of nearly a quarter of a million from the previous week’s revised level, the U.S. Department of Labor reported.
Mark Hamrick, Washington Bureau chief and senior economic analyst for Bankrate, a consumer financial services company based in New York City, wrote that although unemployment claims are falling, 16 million people in the U.S. are still out of work so “it’s hardly time to check off the ‘mission accomplished’ box” just yet.
“[W]e must resist the temptation to take in stride these still quite elevated unemployment claims numbers,” he said. “This marks the 20th consecutive week of elevated new jobless claims of one million or more, in some cases substantially more, going back to March and continuing through June.”
While economic activity is expected to rebound in the second half of the year, Hamrick said, the country still lags in new job creation.