New jobless claims in Washington fell sharply last week but remained well above pre-COVID-19 levels as the state’s job market slowly recovers from the pandemic.
Washingtonians filed 13,216 new, or “initial,” claims for unemployment benefits last week, a 23.5% decrease from the prior week, the state Employment Security Department (ESD) reported Thursday.
Washington’s sharp decrease was something of a return to normal: It followed a surge in claims two weeks ago when Washingtonians who had collected 52 weeks of unemployment benefits and were still out of work were required to file new claims to keep receiving benefits.
But even that normal is relative: Although last week’s claims are just a fraction of the numbers seen last spring, when pandemic-related layoffs surged, they’re still high by historic standards. The four-week moving average of claims — 13,454 — is more than twice the level before the pandemic struck last year and remains on par with levels recorded during the Great Recession, according to the ESD.
The number of overall claims — new claims plus ongoing claims that claimants must file each week to receive benefits — has hovered around 430,000 since mid-March but dropped to 414,414 last week.
Last week, the ESD paid benefits on 299,100 individual claims, down less than 1% 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 billion in jobless benefits, with roughly 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.
New claims for federal pandemic unemployment benefits — which are available for workers not normally eligible for state benefits, such as freelancers and part-timers, as well as for workers who have exhausted state benefits — have largely declined since mid-March.
The state’s unemployment rate fell to 5.4% in March, from 5.6% a month earlier, the ESD reported last week. 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.