More than 138,000 Maine residents have filed a claim for unemployment benefits since the coronavirus pandemic hit the state’s economy with full force in March.

About 11,500 Mainers filed initial claims last week, according to data released Thursday by the Maine Department of Labor. Roughly one-in-five Maine workers claimed jobless benefits in the last two months.

The department started releasing the number of individuals seeking jobless benefits as part of its weekly claims report this week. Previously, it only reported federally mandated unemployment claims data, an imperfect gauge for the number of people who have lost their jobs because thousands of reported claims are duplicates.

A monthly report on the state’s unemployment rate, to be released Friday, will provide a more accurate picture of the state’s unemployment rate in April.

The implementation of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, a federal program that provides benefits to self-employed people, contractors and other workers who are not typically eligible for unemployment assistance, has generated multiple claims from some people. Ordinarily, most out-of-work people only file one initial claim, so the duplication makes raw claims data a less reliable measure of the number of individuals seeking benefits.

“I take the department’s responsibility to report accurate, concise data about unemployment in Maine seriously, and we will adjust our practices to do so in the wake of new federal programs,” said state Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman in a statement.


Last week, 4,640 initial claims were filed for state unemployment benefits and 7,043 new claims were filed for federal benefits under the PUA program.

Nationwide, more than 2.4 million new unemployment claims were filed last week, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The number of initial jobless claims filed since the pandemic hit the U.S. in March is around 38.6 million.

The number of people in Maine who remain on unemployment benefits, meaning they have not returned to regular work, continues to increase. Last week, 92,000 continuing claims were filed for state unemployment, up 5,000 from the first week in May. About 35,700 weekly claims were filed under the PUA program, the department reported.

Limited demographic data released by the state this week indicate that women, millennials and restaurant workers have been most affected by joblessness in Maine as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Maine plans to allow significant parts of its economy, including restaurants, hotels and other lodging, to reopen June 1. In many of the state’s rural counties, retail establishments were allowed to reopen earlier this month, and restaurants this week. Campgrounds will be allowed to open for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend to Maine residents and people from out of state who have self-quarantined for 14 days upon arrival in the state.

Since March 15, Maine has paid out $425 million in unemployment benefits, according to the department. Fifty-three Maine prisoners received around $200,000 in benefits after qualifying for unemployment when their work release programs were halted. Gov. Janet Mills halted benefit payments to prisoners last week.

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