In popular culture, bartenders are always there to listen to your troubles. These days, though, mixologists have troubles of their own.

Among all workers in Washington, none have been hit harder amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Analysis of data from the state Employment Security Department (ESD) shows that basically everyone who worked in that occupation has filed for unemployment since March 15, when an emergency declaration temporarily shut down bars, restaurants and places of entertainment and recreation statewide.

About 14,800 initial unemployment claims by bartenders were filed from March 8 through April 25. That just about matches the number of people estimated to work as bartenders in Washington in the second quarter of 2020. (The number of claims is actually higher by 16 than the number of people employed in field, which may sound like a mistake. But keep in mind that the total employment numbers are estimates and therefore not exact).

I looked at the numbers for the 100 most common occupations in Washington. There are seven in which more than half of those employed have filed for unemployment. Dental assistants rank just behind bartenders, with about 94% of people employed in that field filing an initial unemployment claim. (Dentists don’t rank among the 100 most common jobs, but I looked it up, and about 71% have filed for unemployment).

Others near the top of the list include hairstylists, waiters and waitresses, and massage therapists. Some construction-related fields are also near the top, as well as aircraft assemblers.


“This lines up very squarely with the identification of nonessential activities due to physical distancing, with the exception of the aircraft assemblers, which aligns with the temporary shutdown of Boeing facilities a couple weeks ago and impacts of a slowed production schedule on suppliers,” said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, an ESD regional labor economist, in an email.

You might be wondering why more or less every bartender in the state has filed for unemployment, while a significant chunk of, say, waitstaff have not. After all, their jobs have been completely shut down, too.

The answer is that not everyone files for unemployment when they lose a job. One reason could be that they work insufficient hours or work in a job that isn’t eligible for the benefit, Vance-Sherman explains.

“Many people work too few hours to qualify, or work in nontraditional arrangements, to qualify under normal circumstances,” she said. “Occupations such as waiter/waitress are frequently part-time work, which means that many workers may not have been able to access unemployment insurance due to the number of hours.”

She adds that while Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) has lifted some of those traditional restrictions on unemployment insurance availability, that has only been available as of April 19.

Also keep in mind that the data captures jobs, not people. And many people have more than one job. Someone who loses one job but keeps another might not be eligible for unemployment insurance.


The fact that unemployment claims are at 100% for bartenders suggests that people in that occupation as less likely to work part-time or to hold a second job.

Some people might be eligible for the unemployment benefit and still not apply, Vance-Sherman says. That’s often because of a lack of familiarity with the system.

“Some occupations and industries are familiar with our system,” she said. “Generally speaking, construction workers know how to navigate the system and are quick to apply when a job ends.” That’s because construction workers make up a large portion of unemployment claims even in boom times. But other types of workers are less familiar with the system, and therefore less likely to apply even if they are eligible.

Washington adds just over 100,000 unemployment claims as coronavirus economy nears the two-month mark

Of course, some workers are holding up a lot better in the current crisis. These include managers, those in IT jobs and people employed in essential work that can be done from home (such as teachers), and some essential work that cannot necessarily be done from home (such as police).

Among the 100 most common occupations, management consultants had the lowest percentage of initial unemployment claims, at a little less than 1%.

Similarly, software developers — that’s the No. 1 occupation in King County — have only filed about 1,500 initial unemployment claims statewide. That’s only around 2% of the roughly 90,000 who work in that profession in Washington.