Jobless claims increase more than expected

According to the US Department of Labor, unemployment insurance claims rose 17,000 to 474,000 last week. These numbers come after five straight weeks of decline, catching some economists off guard.

Unemployment claims were expected to be around 460,000, but a Labor Department economist told Reuters that “claims had been bumped up by seasonal industries laying people off and by applications that had been held back during the Thanksgiving holiday week.”

Despite this uptick, most observers still believe the economy is on the mend. November saw only 11,000 jobs lost, from over 100,000 the month before, and the four-week average of claims, which tends to paint a more accurate picture of trends, fell to 473,750, its 14th straight decline and the lowest level since September 2008.

Still, state capitals across the country know they are far from recovery. A report from the National Conference of State Legislatures released yesterday is the latest in a string of findings indicating that state and local governments will continue to see budget problems as calls for assistance fall on empty pockets.

As CivSource reported last week, nearly a dozen states are still struggling to update their benefits management systems. This week, two national papers began coverage of this very issue.

The Los Angeles Times, picked up several local television accounts of delayed benefits and found that an “estimated 117,000 Californians haven’t received their unemployment checks — some for more than a month — because of what state officials blame on an archaic computer system.”

Employment Economic Development spokeswoman Loree Levy was back on the trail trying to explain the problem: “We’re trying to fully upgrade the system as it’s moving at a record pace, while being very careful to not risk shutting down the rest of the system,” she told the LA Times. “It’s like keeping the plane in the air while trying to fix the engines.” Ms. Levy said the California system would need about $300 million to work properly.

And the New York Times reported earlier this week that Labor officials from across the country were calling on Congress to quickly extend emergency unemployment benefits and to renew health insurance subsidies for the long-term jobless, reporting:

Prolonged unemployment insurance, passed this year in the stimulus act, expires this month, and an estimated one million workers will see benefits end in January if Congress does not act.

About 4.6 million people were receiving extended benefits in the week ended Nov. 21, the Associated Press reports, which is in addition to those 5.6 million who are currently receiving benefits through the standard 26-week plan provided through state governments.

If you have reports of similar instances going on in your state, let us know. If you are having problems filing for assistance benefits, or if your agency is being underfunded and overwhelmed, write us – civsource {at} civsourceonline {dot} com – or leave a comment and we’ll continue to update the story as it progresses.

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