New unemployment claims in Washington state fell slightly last week, the fifth decline in five weeks, but the number of people seeking jobless benefits remains well above pre-pandemic levels.  

Washingtonians filed 15,644 new, or “initial,” claims last week, a 2.8% decrease from the week before, the state Employment Security Department (ESD) reported Thursday. Nationally, new jobless claims fell 2.3% to 793,000, the U.S. Labor Department reported.

But the number of new claims in Washington remains more than twice what it was during the same week last year.

The total number of weekly, or continuing, claims filed last week fell 1.5% from the prior week to 489,442.

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The state’s unemployment rate was 7.1% in December, the most recent month that figure is available. The U.S. unemployment rate was 6.7% in December.

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Last week, the ESD paid benefits on 318,152 individual claims, up 1.1% from the prior week. Because individuals can have multiple claims, the number of claims is often slightly higher than the number of individual claimants.

Until recently, the ESD reported the number of individuals receiving benefits each week.

Also missing from the agency’s report Thursday: the number of claimants who had not been paid and were waiting for the ESD to resolve an issue with their claim; the average time required to resolve a problem on a claim; and the average time claimants typically wait to receive their first payment. That data has not been posted since December.

Agency officials have said that claims data isn’t available because newly extended federal benefits have changed how the ESD calculates who is receiving benefits and how long it takes to pay some claimants. 

The agency has rolled out several new benefits authorized in the recent federal stimulus law, including an extra $300 a week that claimants began receiving in January.

Since March, more than 1 million Washingtonians have been paid more than $14.6 billion in jobless benefits, with roughly two-thirds of the money coming from the federal government.