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DENVER — An additional 15,603 people filed for unemployment benefits in the week ending May 23, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment said, bringing the figure of Coloradans who have claimed a work loss during the pandemic to just under 500,000.

The initial claims number released Tuesday morning is down from 17,825 from the week ending May 16, marking the sixth straight week of declines in new claims.

In a call with reporters, CDLE senior economist Ryan Gedney said while the sustained decline in new claims is reassuring, they are still far above the average of 4,800 claims per week seen during the Great Recession.

He also said the latest data available on continuing claims shows approximately 264,600 Coloradans are on sustained benefits as of the week of May 16. While that data is released on a two week lag, he said that figure may be plateauing.

An additional 6,635 self-employed and gig workers applied for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which provides benefits to workers traditionally not eligible for state-level unemployment.

Over the past nine weeks, a total of 498,851 initial unemployment claims have been filed, causing the state to reach a record-high 11.3% unemployment rate in April.

Colorado distributed $95.3 million in regular unemployment insurance payments, down from $88.8 million the prior week. Overall, the state has paid out $616.8 million out of its trust fund since late March, bringing it closer to insolvency and a potential payroll tax spike in 2021.

Nationwide, an additional 2.12 million Americans filed for first-time unemployment benefits, a drop of 323,000 from the week prior. However, that additional figure now brings the total number of Americans who claimed they lost work during the pandemic to more than 40 million.

The U.S. Department of Labor now estimates the insured unemployment rate was 14.5% the week of May 16.

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