New jobless claims rose last week in Washington state as many seasonal jobs ended and as employers faced continued uncertainty over federal pandemic relief and the coming holiday season.
Washingtonians filed 14,681 new, or “initial,” claims for regular unemployment benefits last week, a 3.4% increase over the prior week, the state Employment Security Department (ESD) reported Thursday.
Nationally, initial claims fell last week by 0.3%, to 751,000, compared with a week earlier, the Labor Department said Thursday.
The number of Washingtonians collecting unemployment benefits last week was 302,858 — 7.8% of the state’s workforce — virtually unchanged from a week earlier.
Some Washingtonians are still seeing delays in receiving benefits. As of last week, 19,843 claimants were not receiving benefits and were waiting for the ESD to resolve a question with their claim, the agency reported. That was a drop of 2.4% from the prior week. The average time needed to resolve delayed claims was 9.2 weeks, up from 9.1 weeks the week before.
Since March 8, the ESD has paid out $12.1 billion in benefits, roughly two-thirds of it from federal programs, to approximately 1.07 million individuals.
Washington’s increase in jobless claims reflected the lingering economic effects of the pandemic — claims are running at more than twice the level of a year ago — but also seasonal labor fluctuations.
New jobless claims rose 78% for workers in agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, industries that are affected by seasonal hiring, according to state figures. The construction sector, which also has lots of seasonal hiring, saw a 5% increase in claims.
One positive sign: accommodation and food services, two sectors that have been especially hard-hit during the pandemic, saw only a small increase in the number of new claims.
But economists pointed to two areas of concern.
Consumers might cut back on holiday spending and might also stay away from brick-and-mortar retailers because of concerns about COVID-19, said Jacob Vigdor, an economist at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Policy and Governance. “This would add up to anemic seasonal hiring,” Vigdor said.
Holiday hiring could also be affected by negotiations over a second round of federal pandemic relief for workers and employers that have been stalled for months.
Although Senate Republicans have discussed passing a new relief package after the election, any controversy over the election might hamper negotiations between Congress and the White House, Vigdor said.
“It’s hard to imagine President Trump pivoting from an intense partisan battle over vote counts to negotiating with [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi,” Vigdor said. “And the things at stake in those [relief] negotiations — another round of payments to families, support for state and local government — matter a lot for families wondering if they’ll have anything resembling a normal holiday season.”
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