New claims for unemployment benefits jumped sharply in Washington state last week, with some of that surge likely resulting from new pandemic restrictions on restaurants and other businesses.

For the week ending Saturday, Washingtonians filed 30,274 new, or “initial,” claims for unemployment benefits, a 79.8% increase from the prior week, the state Employment Security Department (ESD) reported Wednesday.

Nearly 8,000 of those new claims were filed by workers in food service businesses, which an ESD news release said was “likely attributed to the COVID-19 public health restrictions recently put in place.”

ESD’s news release gave only a brief analysis of the surge in claims. But it occurred in the same week that Gov. Jay Inslee ordered tighter restrictions for restaurants and many other businesses to combat a rise in new COVID-19 cases. Economists say that layoffs by employers who hire temporary or seasonal workers could also be a factor this time of year.

Many businesses and trade groups have argued that the new restrictions will bring a new round of layoffs.

ESD’s report, usually issued Thursdays, came out a day earlier this week because of the Thanksgiving holiday.


Nationally, initial jobless claims tallied 778,000 last week, up 4% from the previous week, the U.S. Labor Department reported Wednesday, which was also a day earlier than usual.

In early November, the ESD also reported a spike in new unemployment claims, which jumped 71.7% in one week. The agency later said it was the result of a federal regulation that had required some individuals who were collecting federal benefits to reapply for state benefits.

But the ESD temporarily suspended that reapplication process, and the following week new claims fell more in line with recent trends. On Wednesday, an ESD spokesperson said the reapplication process remained suspended.

As of last week, the number of Washingtonians collecting unemployment benefits was 277,099, up less than half a percent from a week earlier, the ESD reported.

Since March, the ESD has paid out $12.5 billion in benefits, with roughly two-thirds of that coming from federal funds.

But much of that federal funding will end this year unless Congress acts to extend relief programs enacted during the first month of the pandemic.