New jobless claims fell only slightly last week in Washington state and remain at historic high levels — although that trend could change as the state economy fully reopens this month.
Washingtonians filed 7,505 new, or “initial,” claims for unemployment benefits last week, only 0.5% below the prior week, the state Employment Security Department (ESD) reported Thursday.
New claims in Washington remain elevated compared to historical standards and are still higher than before the pandemic, according to ESD.
Similarly, the number of overall claims — new claims plus ongoing claims that claimants must file each week to receive benefits — dropped less than 2%, to 368,956 last week.
New claims for federal pandemic extended benefits — for workers who have exhausted state unemployment benefits — fell 15.3% last week from the prior week.
Last week, the ESD paid benefits on 260,138 individual claims, down 4.4% 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 $19.4 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 seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 5.3% for May, the most recent month for which data is available, the ESD reported. That compares to 13.3% in May 2020.
Nationally, the May unemployment rate was 5.8%.
Economists and business leaders hope jobless claims begin to decline faster in Washington as the state economy continues to reopen and as safety net programs shift toward a post-pandemic status.
On Wednesday, Gov. Jay Inslee lifted most of the remaining COVID-related restrictions on businesses.
Overall claims are also expected to fall more sharply starting next week as the state reimposes a requirement that Washingtonians collecting jobless benefits must search for work to keep those benefits coming.
The job-search requirement, suspended last spring as a public-health measure, resumes Sunday. That means claimants “will be required to look for work and document at least three approved job search activities each week in order to remain eligible for unemployment benefits,” according to a statement posted last month on the ESD website.