Unemployment Claims Remain at Historic Highs


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Initial claims for unemployment benefits remained at historical highs for the week of March 29-April 4, with over 170,063 initial claims filed during the week, according to the Employment Security Department (ESD). Although this was a 6.5 percent decrease over the previous week, the number of initial claims filed was a 2,627 percent increase year over year and seven times more than the peak week during the 2008/2009 recession which saw 26,075 weekly initial claims.

In Mason County, there were 1,187 claims last week (3/29/2020 to 4/4/2020), slightly more than the week before’s (3/22/2020 to 3/28/2020) number of 1,178 claims.

During the week of March 29-April 4 ESD paid out $79.4 million to 182,315 individuals across Washington state. In total since the week ending March 16th, the first big week of claims related to COVID-19 job losses, ESD has paid out nearly $150 million in benefits to Washingtonians.

“It remains critical that people stay home and stay healthy, that is paramount. The increased utilization of unemployment insurance across the state demonstrates that more and more people are abiding by this order. Although the number of initial claims is down slightly from last week, we need to be cautious that this does not yet depict a trend,” said Employment Security Commissioner Suzi LeVine.  “As our ESD team works round the clock to make it easier for Washingtonians to apply for unemployment benefits in addition to implementing the new federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program which will increase the number of workers who are eligible for unemployment benefits, we expect to see a new surge of claims in the coming weeks.”

Below is a five-week summary of statewide initial claims filed since the start of the COVID-19 crisis:

For the week ending on:Total number unemployment  claims paidNumber initial unemployment  claims** Increase/decrease of   initial unemployment   claims over previous   weekIncrease of initial unemployment claims over same week in 2019
Saturday, March 7, 202046,5286,54818.60%1%
Saturday, March 14, 202045,43614,154116%182%
Saturday, March 21, 202048,180  128,962*811%2568%
Saturday, March 28, 202099,843181,97541%3513%
Saturday, April 4, 2020182,315170,063-6.50%2627%
*This number was revised downward from 133,464 to 128,962 by the U.S. Department of Labor.
** Initial claims include claims that are still being reviewed for eligibility. Counts for initial claims are not indicative of the number of claims that will result in monetary compensation

Weekly data breakdown

By industry

Industry sectors experiencing the highest number of initial claims during March 29 – April 4 were:

  • Construction:  24,394 initial claims, down 3,627 initial claims from the previous week
  • Retail trade:  20,508 initial claims, down 1,494 initial claims from the previous week
  • Health care and social assistance: 19,462 initial claims, down 803 initial claims from previous week
  • Accommodation and food services: 18,017 initial claims, down 5,343 initial claims from previous week
  • Manufacturing: 12,973 initial claims, down 994 initial claims from previous week

Industry sectors experiencing the highest percentage increase of initial claims during March 29 – April 4 were:

  • Management of companies and enterprises sector: 270 initial claims, up 94 percent from the previous week.
  • Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction: 167 initial claims, up 86 percent from the previous week
  • Transportation and warehousing: 4,625 initial claims, up 27 percent from the previous week
  • Arts, entertainment, and recreation: 6,762 initial claims, up 25 percent from the previous week
  • Wholesale trade: 6,008 initial claims, up 15 percent from the previous week

By county

King County the most populous in the state and one that had already experienced a rise in claims the prior two weeks, saw initial claims increase from 44,613 to 47,233 during the week of March 29 – April 4th, up 6 percent from the week before.

Other counties experiencing the largest increases in initial claims over the previous week were:

  • Clark County: Initial claims filed increased from 8,661 to 9,378 up 8 percent from the week before.
  • Pierce County: Initial claims filed increased from 22,145 to 22,379 up 1 percent from the week before.
  • Okanogan County: Initial claims filed increased from 524 to 662 up 26 percent from the week before.
  • Cowlitz County: Initial claims filed increased from 2,096 to 2,215 up 6 percent from the week before.