Fewer North Carolinians filed for initial unemployment-insurance benefits last week for the fourth consecutive week, the U.S. Labor Department said Thursday.

There was a 7.9% decline, to 43,221, for the week that ended May 23, the department reported. For the week ending May 16, the revised claim total was 46,913.

Nationwide, there was a decrease in initial unemployment claims at 2.12 million, compared with a revised 2.45 million for the week that ended May 16. The peak has been 6.87 million the week that ended March 28.

The overall total of unemployment claims since March 15 is 40.76 million, although that number could be affected by individuals filing multiple claims if they had multiple jobs.

North Carolina had the 12th highest UI claim filings in the nation for the third consecutive week after being in the top 10 most weeks since mid-March. The state’s highest weekly total for UI claims related to the COVID-19 pandemic is 172,745 for the week that ended March 28.

The number of unemployment claims nationwide was at 282,000 the week before governors and city and county governments began imposing stay-at-home restrictions to slow the pandemic’s spread.

The U.S. Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration said the seasonally adjusted U.S. unemployment rate was 14.5% for the week that ended May 16, down from 17.2% for the week that ended May 9.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported May 8 that the U.S. unemployment rate climbed from 4.4% in March to 14.7% in April. It’s the largest month-over-month increase since the bureau began compiling seasonally adjusted U.S. jobless reports in January 1948.

North Carolina’s unemployment rate nearly tripled from 4.3% in March to 12.2% in April, a stark reflection of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the state’s economy.

Economists project the state’s May jobless rate will be significantly higher, because the U.S. Labor Department collects employment data during the week that contains the 12th of the month. The April report covers the churn from March 14 to April 12.

The April regional and county jobless reports will be released June 3. The reports will reflect only 16 days of Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order implementing stay-at-home restrictions that began March 27.

Individuals without jobs and not actively looking for work are unaccounted for in the labor force.

N.C. claimants approach 1 million

The N.C. Division of Employment Security reported that as of Thursday morning, 962,390 claimants have filed a combined 1.34 million state and federal claims.

Some individuals have been required to file a second claim — after being determined to be ineligible for initial state benefits — in order to qualify for federal benefits that often include extended state benefits.

DES said 620,607 claimants have received state and/or federal benefits, or about 64.5% of the state’s UI benefit claimants.

DES provided for the first time Thursday the number of UI claimants per county for April.

Forsyth was listed with 19,984 new and 21,256 continuing claimants for April, the latter defined as claims that began in March and carried into April. There were 64,550 continuing cases as of April 30.

By comparison, Guilford had 33,507 new and 34,136 continuing claimant. There were 104,421 continuing cases as of April 30.

For the 14-county Triad and Northwest N.C., there were 88,768 new claimants and 108,844 claimants in April. There were 309,188 continuing cases as of April 30.

By comparison, the U.S. Labor report found that nationally 47.3% of claimants have been paid as of April 30.

“Treasury data paint an improving picture in May as well, as unemployment benefits paid out topped $70 billion in the first three weeks of the month, compared to $48 billion for the entire month of April,” said Andrew Stettner, senior fellow for the left-leaning think tank The Century Foundation.

With the drop in the labor force over the month, currently 24.1% of the 3.99 million North Carolinians considered in the state’s workforce as of mid-April have filed a state or federal unemployment claim.

There were 13,362 new claimants Wednesday. The daily filing peak was 34,706 on March 30.

DES said that $2.82 billion in state and federal UI benefits have been paid.

The overall unemployment benefits payment breakdown is: $1.53 billion from the federal pandemic unemployment-compensation package; $744.2 million in state benefits; $536.4 million in the federal pandemic unemployment-assistance package; and $11.7 million in pandemic-emergency unemployment compensation.

With the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund at close to $3.85 billion before the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic began to be felt, 19.3% of that money had been used as of Wednesday morning.

“What’s most disturbing is how many Americans remain unemployed more than two months into the crisis,” Stettner said.

“The figures today reveal 21 million workers still claiming state benefits, and another 7.8 million claiming special federal pandemic unemployment aid — each of these workers has certified that they remain fully or partially unemployed.”

Stetter said that the “major increase in payouts, in particular, demonstrates the powerful economic impact of the $600 per week increase in benefits.”

“Pandemic Unemployment Compensation has become a lightning rod of controversy over whether increased unemployment benefit payouts might conflict with rehiring and reopening.

“But the reality from coast to coast is that the job market has not made a big comeback, and that the enhanced unemployment aid is one of the most important fiscal boosts that the federal government can provide to families and the economy.”

rcraver@wsjournal.com

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@rcraverWSJ

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