Unemployment claims dropped again last week in Michigan, as some state residents returned to work and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer reopened parts of the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.


In a week-to-week comparison, new claims for the state declined to 68,952 in the week ending May 2, down from 82,004 the previous week.


Last week's unemployment claims dropped to the lowest level since the start of the pandemic, and fell below 77,000 for the first time, the weekly high during the recession in 2009, an important benchmark.


About 1.33 million have filed for unemployment in Michigan since March 15, the state's labor department said Thursday. That's more than a quarter of the state's total workforce.


Michigan has distributed $4.13 billion in unemployment benefits through Wednesday, the labor department said.


Whitmer announced an executive order Wednesday that aims to expedite unemployment benefits to Michiganders by requiring only the current cause of unemployment be weighed when it comes to a resident’s eligibility for state benefits.


Under the order, the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency will not have to look at prior employers to determine eligibility, and instead will look at only the most recent separating employer.


More than a quarter of the state’s workforce has made an unemployment claim since the start of the pandemic, but up to 40% of Michigan workers could be negatively affected by the pandemic once furloughs, reduced hours and pay cuts are accounted for, according to a recent report by McKinsey & Co.


While unemployment claims have dropped in the state since mid-April, that could change as businesses who may have tried to maintain their staff initially have had to resort to layoffs, furloughs or cuts to pay and hours, McKinsey said.


The latest numbers show Michiganders continuing to file claims, but at a slowing pace. The number of claims each week had been on the rise since March 15, with 128,806 claims in the week ending March 21, followed by 304,335 claims for the week ending March 28, and 388,554 claims for the week ending April 4.


By the week ending April 11, the number of new claims filed had dropped to 222,207, followed by 134,119 the week ending April 18, and 82,004 in the week ending April 25.


To file for unemployment


Go online at Michigan.gov/UIA. Names that begin with A-L file claims on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays. Names beginning with M-Z on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Saturdays are for any who could not file the rest of the week.


Or call 866-500-0017. Hours: 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat. Names that begin with A-L file claims Monday and Wednesday. Names beginning with M-Z on Tuesday and Thursday. Fridays and Saturdays are for any who could not call on designated days.