Jobless Claims Surge 54 Percent in Washington State With Seasonal Layoffs, Health Restrictions

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New jobless claims in Washington rose sharply last week as seasonal layoffs and ongoing public health restrictions due to COVID-19 continued to hit the state's job market.

Washingtonians filed 29,651 new, or "initial," claims last week, a 54% increase from the prior week, the state Employment Security Department (ESD) reported Thursday.

That contrasts with the nation as a whole, which saw 787,000 initial claims last week, virtually unchanged from the prior week, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

Washington's increase partly reflected seasonal layoffs, ESD officials said. That included the construction industry, where initial claims last week jumped 48.4% over the prior week. Claims from the retail sector were up 53.2%, which "was likely reflective of post-holiday layoffs," said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, an ESD regional economist who covers the Seattle area.

Claims rose 47.8% among restaurant and hotel workers, which may reflect continued restrictions on indoor dining imposed by Gov. Jay Inslee.

Another hard-hit sector: manufacturing, which saw a 51% increase last week and which has been heavily battered by the pandemic. Since January, manufacturing employment in Washington has fallen 7.8%, from 291,400 jobs to 268,600, as of November, Vance-Sherman said.

The ESD didn't release some data it normally posts on Thursdays, including the total number of people receiving benefits, the average time required to resolve a problem on a claim, and how long claimants typically wait to receive their first payment.

ESD spokesperson Nick Demerice said the agency didn't include the data this week because recently extended federal benefits have changed the way the ESD calculates who is receiving benefits and how long it takes to pay some claimants. "We will update that when it becomes clear," Demerice said.

The agency is rolling out several new benefits authorized in the recent federal stimulus law, including an extra $300 a week that all claimants will begin receiving starting sometime after Jan. 15.

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