The number of unemployment insurance claims decreased for the second week in a row in the Palmetto State, where the economy continues to struggle because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce reported Thursday.

But that trend didn’t include Aiken County, where the requests for assistance increased after declining during the previous week.

According to a news release issued by the Department of Employment and Workforce, there were 17,098 claims filed statewide during the seven-day period that ended June 20. The count was down from the totals of 19,366 for the week that ended June 13 and 22,734 for the seven-day period that ended June 6.

In Aiken County, there were 382 requests for jobless aid during the week ending June 20. The totals were 332 for the seven-day period ending June 13 and 435 for the week ending June 6.

The number of claims was 68 in Edgefield County during the seven-day period ending June 20 and 71 in Barnwell County during the same time frame.

The Department of Employment and Workforce’s statistics are based on initial unemployment assistance requests that individuals file after separation from an employer and are reported before eligibility for benefits has been determined.

“Our latest initial claims number shows another decline, the lowest we have been able to report since early March, but overall is still stubbornly high,” said Dan Ellzey, executive director of the Department of Employment and Workforce. “We are seeing more businesses reopening cautiously and safely, navigating the challenge of customer and employee safety while making sound business decisions. We anticipate this trend of more businesses recalling employees will continue, even if it’s at a slower rate than hoped for.

“We also want to bring attention to the upcoming deadline of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, which provides an additional $600 per week to UI (unemployment insurance) claimants,” Ellzey continued. “It is set to expire on July 25, 2020. This means unless Congress passes additional legislation that extends this program or funds something similar, those currently receiving unemployment insurance benefits, will only receive their weekly benefit amount after July 25, which is a maximum of $326 per week.”

Since mid-March, there have been 618,729 jobless claims field in South Carolina.

The Department of Employment and Workforce has paid more than $2.5 billion in state unemployment insurance benefits and federal aid.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that the number of laid-off workers nationwide seeking unemployment benefits dipped only slightly last week, and the economy shrank in the first three months of the year – evidence of the ongoing economic damage being inflicted by the viral pandemic.

The economy, which contracted 5% in the January-March quarter, is widely expected to shrink at a roughly 30% annual rate during the current April-June quarter. That would be the worst quarterly contraction, by far, since record-keeping began in 1948.

The number of laid-off workers who applied for unemployment benefits declined slightly to 1.48 million last week, according to the United States Department of Labor. It was the 12th straight drop. Still, applications for jobless aid have declined just 5% in the past two weeks, a much slower rate of improvement than in April and May.

What’s more, the Associated Press reported, an additional 700,000 people applied for jobless benefits last week under a new program for self-employed and gig workers that made them eligible for aid for the first time.

These figures aren’t adjusted for seasonal variations, so the government doesn’t include them in the official count, according to the Associated Press.

​Dede Biles is the Aiken County government, business and horse industry reporter for the Aiken Standard. For more access to these types of articles subscribe at my special rate. Click here