New jobless claims in Washington state fell last week, but still remain well above their pre-pandemic levels as public health restrictions continue to fuel layoffs and economic uncertainty.

Washingtonians filed 16,461 new, or “initial,” claims last week, a 14.3% decrease from the week before, the state Employment Security Department (ESD) reported Thursday. That’s more than twice the number of new claims filed during the same week last year.

Last week’s decline was driven, in part, by fewer claims from workers at hotels, restaurants and retailers — sectors that were hit hard by recent public health restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.

Nationally, the number of new jobless claims fell to 847,000, a 7.3% decline over the prior week, the U.S. Labor Department reported.

Thursday’s unemployment numbers come amid other downbeat economic reports.

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reported Thursday that national economic output in 2020 fell by 3.5% compared with 2019 (which, in contrast, grew by 2.2% compared with 2018). The decline in 2020 was the sharpest since 1946, The Washington Post reported.

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve said that the pace of recovery in both economic activity and employment “has moderated in recent months, with weakness concentrated in the sectors most adversely affected by the pandemic.”


The Federal Reserve blamed much of the economic distress on the pandemic and echoed what has become a familiar warning: Recovery now depends “significantly on the course of the virus, including progress on vaccinations.”

The state ESD was paying benefits on 300,222 individual claims last week, down 10.9% from the prior week. But because individuals can have multiple claims, the number of claims is often slightly higher than the number of claimants.

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

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

The last time the ESD posted that data — for the week ending Dec. 26 — the agency was paying benefits to 281,328 people.

In December, 272,500 people were unemployed in Washington, according to the ESD’s most recent employment report. The state’s unemployment rate for December was 7.1%, up from 5.7% the month before. The U.S. unemployment rate was 6.7% in December.


Also missing this week from the ESD: 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.

As of Dec. 26, the most recent date for which the data is available, 39,613 claimants were not receiving benefits and were waiting for the ESD to resolve an issue with their claim.

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 this month. Since March, more than 1 million Washingtonians have been paid more than $14billion in benefits, with roughly two-thirds of the money coming from the federal government.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story used the wrong figure for total unemployment benefits paid to Washingtonians since March.