Jobless Claims Continue to Fall in Washington Even as U.S. Braces for Case Surge

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New jobless claims in Washington continue to decline as the state economy rebounds from the pandemic and employers scramble to rehire.

Washingtonians filed 4,554 new, or "initial," claims for unemployment benefits last week, a 10% decrease from the prior week, the state Employment Security Department reported Thursday.

That was not only the smallest number of new claims filed since the start of the pandemic in March 2020 — it was also well below the number of claims filed during the weeks before last year's first big layoffs from COVID-19-related business closures.

But the good news comes as the state and nation brace for a surge in COVID-19 cases that could complicate the recovery.

Nationally, new jobless claims fell 5.7% to 400,000, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday.

In Washington state, the number of overall claims — new claims plus ongoing claims that claimants must file each week to receive benefits — dropped 1.5% to 311,097 last week.

New claims for federal pandemic extended benefits — for workers who have exhausted state unemployment benefits — fell nearly 12% last week from the prior week.

Last week, the ESD paid benefits on 232,247 individual claims, down 1.5% 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 $20.2 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 over $1 billion, the ESD said.

Economists and business leaders have attributed the continued decline in jobless claims to the steady reopening of the state economy and to changes in pandemic unemployment programs.

In June, Gov. Jay Inslee lifted most of the remaining COVID-19-related restrictions on businesses in Washington. And earlier this month, the state reimposed a requirement that Washingtonians collecting jobless benefits must search for work to keep those benefits coming.

Still, Washington's job market remains well below its pre-pandemic size.

In June, the state's resident labor force was 3,889,100, or nearly 2% less than it was in February 2020, the last full month before the pandemic struck. The unemployment rate in February 2020 was 3.5%, compared with 5.2% in June 2021.

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