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Business and Economy

Data: Maine Weekly Unemployment Claims Down Slightly, But Still Historically High

More Mainers applied for unemployment assistance last week, but at lower rates than in previous weeks.

The state Department of Labor says 11,560 people made new claims for unemployment. That was the lowest number of new claims in five weeks, but the number of Mainers who continued assistance from previous weeks rose to a new record of 66,470.

Department Commissioner Laura Fortnam says that the slowdown in new claims may show that the wave of recent layoffs has reached a peak.

"Things are kind of holding steady, and that's what we're hoping for. Although we have asked self-employed people and people not traditionally covered by state unemployment insurance to wait until we have the new federal pandemic unemployment assistance up. So we anticipate another surge in claims once that happens."

Fortman says that federal guidance is expected early next week on how to parcel out newly-enacted unemployment assistance for self-employed Mainers who've lost work, from lobstermen to hair stylists, but she could not say exactly when the state would be able to open up applications for that group.

The Department reports that especially hard hit are food services and lodging, health care and social assistance, retail, manufacturing, as well as the entertainment and recreation sectors.

As recently as the week ending March 14, the number of people filing first-time claims for unemployment in Maine was just 634.

Updated 3:12 p.m. April 23, 2020