The number of Washingtonians filing new unemployment claims fell again last week amid mixed signals over the pace of economic recovery from the pandemic.
For the week ending Saturday, Washington state received 14,198 new, or “initial,” claims for regular unemployment benefits, a 15.9% drop from the prior week, the state Employment Security Department reported Thursday. Overall, U.S. claims fell 5.1%, to 791,000, the Labor Department said Thursday.
The new claims numbers came as the U.S. also reported a 7.4% increase in economic activity in the third quarter. That was the biggest quarterly increase on record.
But the surge in economic activity only partly compensated for the overall loss of economic growth during the pandemic. In inflation-adjusted terms, the U.S. economy is now 2.9% smaller than it was 12 months ago, according to Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) data.
Consumers also had less to spend in the third quarter. Total personal income in the period fell 2.6% compared with the previous quarter, the BEA reported. That was due, in part, to a $309 billion decline in federal pandemic unemployment assistance after a $600 weekly benefit expired in July. Congress is deadlocked over whether to extend federal unemployment benefits and other relief.
Those uncertainties may be playing out in Washington state, where job losses are still running well above their pre-pandemic levels. Last week’s new unemployment claims were more than twice the number filed in the same week in 2019.
Overall, 302,914 Washingtonians, or roughly 7.8% of the state’s resident labor force, collected unemployment benefits last week, down 0.7% from the week before, the ESD reported.
Some Washingtonians are still seeing delays in receiving benefits. Although the ESD has cleared most of the large claims backlogs that built up after the first wave of pandemic-related layoffs and a massive benefits fraud scheme, as of last week, 20,323 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 1.1% from the prior week. The average time needed to resolve delayed claims was 9.1 weeks, up from 8.7 weeks the week before.
Since March 8, the ESD has paid out $11.9 billion in benefits, roughly two-thirds of it from federal programs, to slightly more than 1 million individuals.