New jobless claims in Washington rose slightly last week but remained at pre-pandemic lows as the state economy continues to recover from COVID-19, even as concerns about the delta variant grow.

Washingtonians filed 4,919 new, or “initial,” claims for unemployment benefits last week, an 8% increase from the prior week, the state Employment Security Department reported Thursday.

It was the first increase in claims in five weeks, and came as claims fell nationally 3.5%, to 385,000, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday.

Despite last week’s modest increase in claims in Washington, the overall trend is lower.

The state’s four-week moving average for initial claims is 5,006, which is 4.5% lower than it was at this point in 2019. The four-week moving average has declined for eight consecutive weeks.

Still, the encouraging news on jobless claims comes as employers in Washington and elsewhere brace for an uncertain future as the highly infectious delta variant spurs a surge in cases.


Microsoft is delaying bringing workers back into offices by nearly a month, to Oct. 4. On Thursday, Seattle-based Amazon told employees it has pushed back its return-to-office date for tech and corporate workers until January 2022, according to an internal email seen by The Seattle Times.

“As we continue to closely watch conditions related to COVID-19, we are adjusting our guidance for corporate employees in the U.S. and other countries where we had previously anticipated our employees would begin coming in regularly the week of Sept. 7,” wrote Amazon human resources chief Beth Galetti in the email. “We are now extending this date to Jan. 3, 2022.”

In Washington, the number of overall claims — new claims plus ongoing claims that claimants must file each week to receive benefits — dropped nearly 1% to 308,266 last week.

New claims for federal pandemic extended benefits — for workers who have exhausted state unemployment benefits — fell 5.4% last week from the prior week.

Last week, the ESD paid benefits on 229,878 individual claims, down 1% 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 1.1 million Washingtonians have received more than $20.4 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.