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New unemployment claims slowed in Missouri over the last week, though remain much higher than before businesses shut down in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week, 59,271 Missourians filed new claims for unemployment insurance, the lowest number of initial claims since 42,207 Missourians filed claims the week ending March 21 — the first week to show a significant impact from COVID-19-related closures.

Between March 14 and April 18 — the last day of the latest weekly count — 398,479 Missourians filed new unemployment claims, almost 13 percent of the state's labor force. That is more than double the 179,831 initial claims Missourians filed in all of 2019.

The number of claims dipped nationwide from 5.2 million claims the week ending April 11 to 4,427,000 claims last week. That means there were 15.5 percent fewer weekly claims nationwide, compared to 41.7 percent fewer in Missouri.

Even though fewer people filed claims than the week before, the national number is still more than six times what the weekly record was before this March — when 695,000 Americans filed claims in one week of October 1982.

Between March 14 and April 18, over 26 million Americans have filed new unemployment claims, almost 16 percent of the national labor force.

As it has each week, Missouri attributed the weekly claims to job losses in accommodation and food service industries, adding administrative, waste management and remediation industries as sources of layoffs.

The weekly numbers don't include self-employed, contracted and other workers who are not covered by traditional unemployment. Those workers are able to claim a new, federal pandemic unemployment assistance program Missouri rolled out this week.

Under the new program, workers are eligible for the same benefits as those claiming traditional unemployment insurance. To qualify for the new program, they have to be rejected for unemployment insurance, so anyone who has lost work due to COVID-19 should first file a claim through the state's online portal.

The Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations also encouraged those without enough work history or who were unable to start a new job because of COVID-19 to file an unemployment claim because they may be eligible for the new program.

If a worker hasn't had an employer over the past 18 months, they should mark that they haven't worked in any states when filling out the form, according to the department. If they have had an employer in the past 18 months, they may be eligible for regular unemployment insurance, depending on how much they earned.

Those who aren't eligible for regular unemployment insurance will get a rejection notice, and the department will follow up with them within a week to give instructions for filing for the pandemic assistance. They'll have to show proof of work, like a business card, and proof of earnings, including tax statements.

The online portal is the most efficient way to file, and it's available 24/7 and on mobile devices. Those who can't file online can call the regional claims center at 573-751-9040.

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