Rise in Unemployment to 8.5% Triggers Added Benefit for Thousands in Connecticut

Thousands of people collecting unemployment benefits in Connecticut will have them for an additional seven weeks as the state’s three-month average unemployment rate rose above 8 percent in February.

About 28,000 people filing for state extended unemployment benefits will be eligible for seven additional weeks of benefits. The Connecticut Department of Labor said in a news release that it will let those eligible know about the extension.

“High Extended Benefits will infuse millions of dollars into households and the economy as both recover from the pandemic,” Labor Commissioner Kurt Westby said in the release. “Over the past year, CTDOL has disbursed $7.5 billion in state and federal unemployment benefits — funding which brought stability to about 580,000 Connecticut workers who were employed one day and unemployed the next. It’s critical that we continue to do everything we can to end the public health crisis; when we do, the labor market will also recover.”

Connecticut’s February unemployment rate rose to 8.5 percent from 8.1 percent in January. That brings the three-month average to 8.3 percent unemployment, triggering the federal extended benefits program that allows jobless residents to claim 20 weeks of unemployment support. The typical limit is 13 weeks.

The change does not apply to people enrolled in the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, who can receive up to 79 weeks of benefits under the most recent federal relief bill. That program is for people like the self-employed or part-time workers who aren’t eligible for regular unemployment benefits.

The extended benefits will close when the three-month average state unemployment rate falls below 8 percent again. The state had remained below that threshold since November, according to the department.

Despite the rising unemployment rate, Connecticut had a net gain of 3,000 jobs in November. The private sector added 4,000 jobs – primarily in professional services; trade, transportation and utilities; and hospitality. The state lost 1,000 government jobs in February, which includes casino workers.

Connecticut has recovered about 170,900 jobs that were lost in March and April 2020 due to COVID restrictions – about 58 percent of those jobs, according to the department. Total employment has dropped 7.2 percent since February 2020, when the state unemployment rate was 3.7 percent.

Employment in the Norwich-New London-Westerly labor market area, which covers southeastern Connecticut, did not change in February, according to the department.

Pandemic-related job losses have continued to affect mainly the lowest earners in the state. Of the new claims made in February, more than half came from people making less than $35,000; and nearly three-quarters came from people making less than $75,000.

Those earning less than $20,000 accounted for 43 percent of continuing unemployment claims the week of March 13. Those earning less than $50,000 accounted for 80 percent of continuing claims that week, the most recent for which data is available.

Continuing claims overall have been declining since the second week of February, and the week of March 13 saw the fewest so far in 2021.

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