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Nevada entering 2021 with high unemployment, exhausted jobless fund

Nevada is entering 2021 with a 10.1 percent unemployment rate as the coronavirus pandemic continues to take its economic toll.

The state Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation reported Thursday that nearly 1.59 million Nevadans filed initial jobless applications through regular unemployment insurance and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program since the beginning of the year.

More than 1.57 million claims were filed since mid-March at the start of the pandemic, representing 98.7 percent of all claims filed with DETR.

On Thursday, agency director Elisa Cafferata said in a court hearing that DETR is grappling with fraud.

“This is the week that we’ve exceeded the number of people we think are in the Nevada workforce that we have received initial applications for,” said Cafferata. “So when we say we consider a significant number of these applications to be fraudulent, it’s either that or everyone in Nevada is no longer working.”

Across the U.S., the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits last week fell by 19,000 to 787,000, still a historically high level as a resurgent coronavirus maintains its grip on the U.S. economy.

While at the lowest level in four weeks, the figures released Thursday by the Labor Department are nearly four times higher than last year at this time before the coronavirus struck. Employers continue to cut jobs as rising infections keep many people at home and state and local governments re-impose tighter restrictions on businesses and public activities.

Economists believe that the holidays, in addition to broad confusion over the status of a COVID-19 relief package, suppressed applications for benefits last week, so the numbers may be worse than they appear.

Most economists had expected the U.S. economy to rebound at some point next year, but that depends on the U.S. response to the coronavirus.

“While prospects for the economy later in 2021 are upbeat, the economy and labor market will have to navigate some difficult terrain between now and then and we expect (jobless) claims to remain elevated,” said Nancy Vanden Houten, lead U.S. economist at Oxford Economics.

DETR reported Thursday the PUA program, which provides benefits for independent contractors and self-employed workers, saw 5,046 initial claims filed in the week ending Dec. 26.

The state’s Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program (PEUC), which provides up to 13 weeks of benefits to individuals who have exhausted their regular unemployment benefits, saw 95,439 claims filed in the week.

Nevada is among 23 U.S. states and islands currently borrowing money from the federal government under Title XII of the Social Security Act to pay for regular unemployment benefits, after the state exhausted its trust fund in mid-December.

The state had a loan balance of $61 million as of Wednesday.

The new COVID-19 relief bill extends both programs, which had expired last week, until mid-March.

The total for all unemployment assistance programs was 19.6 million for the week ending Dec. 12, down 799,841 from the previous week. Analysts said that this drop represented some people who were able to find work but a larger number who have exhausted their benefits.

“While the job prospects for 2021 are brighter, it will take the first half of the year for that momentum to build,” said Greg McBride, chief financial economist at Bankrate. “Elevated unemployment will be with us long after the virus is vanquished.”

Contact Jonathan Ng at jng@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ByJonathanNg on Twitter. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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