BOSTON -- New unemployment claims in Massachusetts surged last week as the state's pandemic battered labor market continues to struggle.

At least 30,234 new applications for benefits were filed in the state for the week ending March 20 -- an increase of 10,713 from the previous week, the U.S. Department of Labor reported.

There were 3,358 new claims last week for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federally backed program that covers workers ineligible for state unemployment benefits. That's an increase of 244 from the previous week.

Meanwhile, 126,374 continuing state claims -- which lag a week but are viewed as a barometer of the state's unemployment situation -- were filed in the week ending March 13, declining by 14,780 over the previous week.

Another 287,934 individuals were collecting Pandemic Unemployment Assistance during the week that ended March 6 -- a 1,479 increase over the prior week.

State labor officials suggested that the increase claims could be from jobless workers who are reapplying for benefits from last year that expired.

The increase is nowhere near the nearly 148,000 unemployment claims filed during the same week last year, as rising COVID-19 infection rates forced the state to impose restrictions and shut down schools and many businesses.

Many unemployed workers were buoyed by a $1.9 trillion relief bill, signed by President Joe Biden two weeks ago, that extended pandemic relief programs until September, including a $300 per week federal enhanced benefit.

Like most states, Massachusetts has been hit by a wave of unemployment claims amid the pandemic and government-mandated business closures.

The state has paid out nearly $16 billion in state and federal jobless claims since last April, according the state Department of Unemployment Assistance.

The crash of jobless claims has tapped out the state's Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund that covers benefits. That's forced the Baker administration to borrow more than $2.2 billion from the federal government to continue paying claims and prompted hikes in the rates that employers pay into the system.

Massachusetts' unemployment rate dropped to 7.8% in January, from its highest-in-the-nation mark of 16.1% in July.

Nationally, 684,000 new jobless claims were filed last week, a decrease of about 97,000 claims from the previous week, according to the Labor Department.

Continuing claims dropped by 264,000 to about 3.8 million nationally for the week that ended March 13, the Labor Department said.

More than 18.9 million workers nationally were still receiving state or federal jobless benefits in the week ending March 6, according to the report.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@cnhi.com

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