Unemployment claims ease but payouts still record high; Colorado deaths at 1,091

DENVER  |  Unemployment claims in Colorado edged down for a fourth consecutive week last week, but the state is still paying record jobless benefits as it struggles to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic, officials said Thursday.

More than 22,000 claims were filed last week, down from more than 28,000 the week before, the Department of Labor and Employment said.

The news came as deaths attributed to COVID-19 reached 1,091, according to state health officials.

Thursday state COVID-19 summary

1,091 deaths

20,838 tested cases

3,789 hospitalized due to virus complications, 514 currently hospitalized

115,996 people tested

208 outbreaks across the state

An additional 9,125 people filed unemployment claims last week seeking benefits for gig and self-employed workers made available under a federal aid package, the department reported.

All told, about 451,000 people have sought unemployment assistance since the pandemic gripped Colorado two months ago.

That has produced record payouts from the state’s unemployment trust fund, which legislative economists this week said faces insolvency by the start of the next fiscal year on July 1.

About $96 million in regular benefits were paid the week ending May 9, well above the weekly average of $19 million at the peak of the Great Recession in 2009 and 2010, the department said. The state paid a total of $315 million in April, more than three times the previous monthly record of nearly $103 million in May 2009.

Colorado is gradually relaxing business closures and other restrictions intended to combat the pandemic, which has claimed more than 1,000 lives in the state. Tourism, food services and retail top those sectors suffering job losses, according to the unemployment claims data.

The state’s share of unemployment benefits is paid from a trust fund supported by payments from employers. It had $1.1 billion before the pandemic. Once the fund runs out, the state expects to borrow money from the federal government, as it did during the Great Recession.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

In other developments:

— Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said Thursday that city employees, including himself, will be furloughed for eight days this year to help close what is expected to be a $226 million budget gap caused by the coronavirus.

The move, which does not apply to uniformed employees like firefighters, police officers and sheriff’s deputies, will save Denver about $16 million. The city also is reducing hiring and purchases, and it is asking departments to cut 7.5% from their budgets.

About 3,000 of Denver’s 12,000 employees are uniformed workers.

“I want everyone to know that we have worked to exhaust every other tool we had before taking this step,” said Hancock, who again called on lawmakers to include cities in the next federal stimulus package.

“The reality is this: If cities can’t recover, there will be no national recovery,” he said.

Brendan Hanlon, the city’s chief financial officer, said he thought the fallout from the 2008-2009 Great Recession was astonishing, but the current crisis will be harder to address.

“I could have never imagined seeing the numbers that we’re seeing right now and the gravity that it means to the services that we provide to the public every day here in Denver,” he said.

The last time the city instituted furloughs was in 2011.