In another sign of Washington’s steady but slow economic recovery, new jobless claims in the state fell for the second consecutive week last week but are about twice the levels seen before the pandemic.
Washingtonians filed 11,629 new, or “initial,” claims for unemployment benefits last week, a 12% decrease from the prior week, the state Employment Security Department reported Thursday.
The number of new claims in Washington, while dramatically lower than during the pandemic’s early weeks, remain high by historic standards.
The four-week moving average for initial claims in Washington last week was 13,497, which is more than double the level (6,071) recorded just before the pandemic — and is about similar to levels during the Great Recession, according to the ESD.
In Washington, the number of overall claims — new claims plus ongoing claims that claimants must file each week to receive benefits — dropped to 408,001 last week after hovering around 420,000 since mid-March.
New claims for federal pandemic unemployment benefits — which are available for jobless workers not normally eligible for state benefits, such as freelancers and part-timers, as well as for workers who have exhausted state benefits — fell 6.5% last week compared to the prior week.
Last week, the ESD paid benefits on 295,464 individual claims, down 1.2% from the prior week. Because individuals can have multiple claims, the number of those claims is often slightly higher than the number of individual claimants.
Since March 2020, more than 1 million Washingtonians have received more than $17.2 billion in jobless benefits, with about two-thirds of the money coming from the federal government.
By comparison, in each of the previous 10 years, the ESD’s annual payout averaged just over $1 billion, the ESD said.
The state’s unemployment rate fell to 5.4% in March, from 5.6% a month earlier, the ESD reported earlier this month. The national unemployment rate was 6% in March.
In March, the state added 23,100 jobs, down from a revised 33,200 in February, the ESD reported.
New unemployment claims surged several weeks ago as Washingtonians who had collected 52 weeks of unemployment benefits and were out of work were required to file new claims to keep receiving benefits.