The state’s March unemployment rate was 5.1%, up from 3.8% in February, though that new figure likely misses most of the damage from the COVID-19 pandemic, state and private economists say.
Paul Turek, economist with the state Employment Security Department (ESD), which released the figure Wednesday, said it likely understates the pandemic’s full job-market impacts because it reflects employment data collected mid-month, before most job losses stemming from the pandemic had occurred.
Seattle economist Dick Conway thinks the state’s real unemployment rate in late March was “somewhere around 11.5%,” or roughly one in nine workers, based on the huge number of new unemployment insurance claims in late March. Though “this is not a firm estimate,” Conway said, “it would be the highest rate in more than 30 years.”
For the week ending April 4, ESD reported an unprecedented 485,000 initial and recurring claims for unemployment insurance, including more than 135,000 in King County alone.
Turek didn’t forecast what April’s unemployment figure might be. But he noted that the timing of the state’s unemployment calculation, which counts workers on company payrolls as of March 12, likely missed the worst of the layoffs.
“Although we have seen widespread closings of schools, restaurants, and theaters, these actions largely took effect starting the week of March 16th, after most workers would have been counted,” Turek said in a statement. Those impacts “are more likely to be evident in the April report,” Turek added.