New unemployment claims jumped last week in Washington state — the first increase in nearly two months — as employers continued to shed jobs ahead of an autumn that could bring even sharper losses.
Workers in Washington filed 20,006 initial, or new, weekly claims for regular unemployment during the week ending Sept. 5, an increase of 10.1% over the prior week, the state Employment Security Department (ESD) said Thursday.
Nationally, workers filed 884,000 initial unemployment claims last week, unchanged from a week earlier, the U.S. Labor Department said Thursday.
Washington state’s unemployment rate was 10.3% as of July; the national rate was 10.2%. About 330,000 workers are receiving unemployment benefits as of last week, the state reported.
Washington state’s increase in jobless claims was the first after seven consecutive weeks of modest declines. It comes as the state job market, still reeling after months of pandemic-related closures and layoffs, moves toward autumn, when jobless claims historically surge as seasonal summer employment tapers off.
“Moving forward, it will likely be difficult to extricate ‘normal’ seasonality from pandemic-created shifts,” said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, regional labor economist at the ESD who covers the Seattle area.
This year, economists and business owners expect that seasonal surge to be magnified in vulnerable sectors by ongoing turmoil and uncertainty related to the pandemic.
The near-collapse of the travel business, for example, will cause continued damage to several key sectors of the Seattle area economy well into the fall.
Booking.com, the online travel firm, will close its Bellevue office and lay off 235 workers starting Saturday, according to a notice filed Thursday with the ESD.
Other travel-related casualties include Boeing, which is planning to cut thousands of local jobs in the face of years of lower demand for aircraft, and Alaska Airlines, which plans almost 1,600 permanent layoffs in Washington state starting on Oct. 1.
Economists and business owners point to several other warning signs of a choppy fall.
Many of the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans that rescued many small businesses are now ending — and it’s unclear if Congress will extend or replace the program. The emergency loans are forgivable if borrowers used the funds largely for payroll.
That’s especially worrying for businesses such as restaurants.
Most suffered large financial losses during the government-ordered shutdown this spring. Many that didn’t shut down permanently have survived on a combination of federal loans and revenues from temporary measures, such as adding outside seating or pivoting to a takeout only model.
Even so, many restaurants have only been able to operate at partial capacity through the summer, when they typically make a large fraction of their yearly sales. “A lot of restaurants are surviving only because of Paycheck Protection dollars,” said Seattle restaurateur Ethan Stowell.
But cooler, wetter weather in autumn will almost certainly curb outside seating and raise the risk of new COVID-19 outbreaks and government-ordered shutdowns.
And without an extension of PPP loans, Stowe says “there’s a good chance some restaurants won’t make it or will have to lay off more staff.”
Those cuts and closures would likely mean another surge in restaurant sector industry jobless claims, which have already been running at roughly three to five times their pre-pandemic levels this summer.
The week brought a small measure of good news for unemployed workers.
A $300-a-week emergency federal unemployment payment, authorized by President Trump, will be available for six weeks in Washington state, the ESD reported Thursday.
The payments, available to many unemployed workers under the new Lost Wages Assistance program, were initially assured for only three weeks.
The program was conceived as a stop-gap measure after the July expiration of a $600-a-week federal pandemic benefit that was added on top of regular state benefits.
But because the program draws from the same pool of funds used for federal responses to wildfires and other disasters, it was intended only as a short-term measure.