Layoffs are on the rise, but many Washington businesses will pay less unemployement-insurance tax next year, the state's Employment Security Department said Friday.

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Layoffs are on the rise, but many Washington businesses will pay less unemployement-insurance tax next year, the state’s Employment Security Department said Friday.

About a quarter of the state’s employers will see their rate decrease, while 18 percent see an increase. The average rate is dropping slightly, to 1.55 percent in 2009 from 1.7 percent this year.

More than half of the state’s employers will be in the lowest unemployment-insurance bracket, or 0.35 percent of their payroll cost, a result of four years of relatively-low unemployment.

Only 3 percent of employers will be in the highest bracket (6 percent of payroll costs.)

Normally, businesses that cut jobs often or have former employees collect benefits for a long time see their rates rise. That means the current wave of layoffs will likely result in many employers paying higher rates in the future.

Washington’s unemployment benefits account contains about $4 billion, which could provide for 20 months of benefits during a “severe recession,” the department said. Through the first 10 months of this year, the state collected $959 million in payroll taxes and paid out $874 million in benefits.

Ángel González: 206-515-5644 or agonzalez@seattletimes.com