Unemployment Claims Drop as Washington Lifts Coronavirus Restrictions, Economy Heats Up


The number of Washington workers applying for unemployment hit a new pandemic-era low as businesses across the state emerged last week from coronavirus restrictions, though claims are still higher than before the pandemic.

Between June 27 and July 3, Washingtonians filed 5,924 new unemployment claims, a 21.1% drop from the prior week, the state Employment Security Department (ESD) reported Thursday.

Total claims, including new and ongoing claims for benefits, were down 7% from the prior week to 343,246, according to the ESD.

Nationally, jobless claims ticked up by 2,000 from the previous week, to 373,000, though the four-week average is at its lowest point since the pandemic hit last March, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

The figures underscore the widespread "reopening" of the economy since the height of the pandemic. In Washington, new unemployment claims are down 79% compared to the same time last year.

Thursday's is the state's first weekly unemployment report to include days after Gov. Jay Inslee lifted pandemic restrictions on businesses across the state. Washington's unemployment rate was 5.3% in May, the latest month for which the ESD has released data.

The new numbers do not yet reflect the return of the state's job-search requirement starting July 4. That requirement means claimants are required to look for work and document their search to continue receiving benefits.

Since last March, the state has paid $19.7 billion in benefits to more than 1 million Washingtonians, ESD said. About two-thirds of that money has come from the federal government.

With the latest weekly data, initial claims in Washington have hit a new pandemic low for the fourth week in a row, ESD said. But the current four-week average of new claims for unemployment benefits is still somewhat higher than before the coronavirus shuttered businesses and caused mass layoffs.

King County, the state's most populous, has been following state trends, said ESD regional economist Scott Bailey. Nearly 7,000 new unemployment claims were filed in King County in June, compared to about 4,500 at the same time in 2019, Bailey said.

The drop in claims this spring and summer likely reflects a combination of factors. "Initial claims have been dropping pretty steadily, with a few bumps and jumps, for months going back to the first of the year. Some of that is seasonal — as the weather improves, employment picks up — and some of that is definitely the recovery," Bailey said.

It's likely too soon to see the effects of the June 30 economic reopening in the numbers, Bailey said, though he expects unemployment claims will continue to fall as businesses ramp up.

Workers are still relying on certain federal emergency benefits.

New claims for federal pandemic unemployment benefits that are available after workers have exhausted state benefits plummeted 63.4% from a week earlier. However, new claims for the pandemic benefits available to people who are self-employed or not eligible for state benefits jumped 14.5% from a week earlier.

ESD cited a bump in applications from people in management occupations as well as office and administrative support jobs for the increase.