New jobless claims in Washington rose slightly last week as a strengthening state economy faced growing uncertainties because of surging COVID-19 case counts.
Washingtonians filed 5,205 new, or “initial,” claims for unemployment benefits last week, a 2.6% increase from the prior week, the state Employment Security Department reported Thursday.
The increase puts Washington back above pre-pandemic levels for new claims. The state’s four-week moving average for new claims was 5,291, a slight decrease from last week’s four-week moving average, but a slight increase compared with the average from the same period in 2019.
It also comes as the state confronts many new COVID-19 cases fueled by the highly infectious delta variant and growing uncertainty about the pace of the state’s economic recovery.
That uncertainty was underscored on Thursday as Microsoft announced that its return to the office, which had been planned for Oct. 4, was being delayed indefinitely.
“Given the uncertainty of COVID-19, we’ve decided against attempting to forecast a new date for a full reopening of our U.S. work sites,” Jared Spataro, a corporate vice president, wrote in a blog post.
In Washington, the number of overall claims — new claims plus ongoing claims that claimants must file each week to receive benefits — dropped 5.6% to 257,702 last week.
The number of new claims for federal pandemic extended benefits — for workers who have exhausted state unemployment benefits — nearly tripled last week from the prior week.
This is the last week individuals can file claims for two federal pandemic programs, which formally expired last Saturday.
Last week, the ESD paid benefits on 197,660 individual claims, down nearly 2% 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 $21.2 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 more than $1 billion, according to the ESD.