SALEM — The number of new jobless claims is falling rapidly across the country as the nation emerges from the pandemic, but not nearly as fast in Oregon.

For several weeks, the number of jobless claims filed nationally have been at their lowest levels of the pandemic.

In Oregon, though, the 6,100 new claims filed last week were still well above the number of new claims filed last summer and fall — when Oregonians filed fewer than 5,000 new claims per week.

On Wednesday, June 2, employment department acting Director David Gerstenfeld acknowledged that fraud is a “significant” reason why Oregon’s claims have remained elevated.

“We’re seeing people still trying to steal money from the trust fund,” Gerstenfeld said in his weekly media call.

Many of those fraudulent claims are never paid, but unlike many other states Oregon has not disclosed how many false claims it does pay. And Oregon won’t say how much it believes its employment insurance system has lost to fraud during the pandemic.

Fraud has been a major problem elsewhere. Thieves have stolen more than $11 billion in California since the pandemic began last year, for example, and Washington lost more than $200 million in the early weeks of the pandemic.

Oregon has said its losses are nowhere near that severe but won’t say just how much thieves have taken, for fear of attracting more attention from the crooks. The state has said the number of fraudulent jobless claims using Oregonians’ stolen identities increased tenfold last year.

Cyberthieves file their fraudulent benefits applications digitally, and so they could be anywhere in the world. During the pandemic, they have capitalized on the flood of new claims — and expansions in federal jobless aid — by attempting to sneak in illicit claims along with legitimate ones.

The thieves’ focus shifts among states as they attempt to find weaknesses in each jurisdiction’s claims process. In April, Oregon shut down part of its online claims form because of “suspicious activity” on its website, delaying benefits filings from self-employed workers.

The number of new Oregon claims did show a significant decline last week, to the lowest level since November. And the number of new claims for a separate program for self-employed workers, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, fell quickly, too, from 2,600 to around 1,600 last week.

Overall, Oregon’s economy appears to be performing on par with the nation’s. The state’s jobless rate was 6.0% in April, compared to 6.1% nationally.

Fraud isn’t the only reason why Oregon jobless claims aren’t falling as fast as in other parts of the country, Gerstenfeld said.

Claims ebb and flow for a variety of reasons, even during normal economic times. He said many Oregonians are filing new claims because they’ve been out of work for a full year, have exhausted eligibility under their original programs and now must start fresh seeking new aid.

Copyright 2021 Tribune Content Agency.

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