Initial claims for state unemployment benefits at historical highs for third straight week

Initial claims for unemployment benefits remained at historical highs for the week of March 29-April 4, with over 170,063 initial claims filed during the week, the Washington State Employment Security Department said Thursday. Although this was a 6.5% decrease over the previous week, the number of initial claims filed was a 2,627% increase year over year and seven times more than the peak week during the 2008/2009 recession, which saw 26,075 weekly initial claims.

During the week of March 29-April 4, ESD paid out $79.4 million to 182,315 individuals across Washington state. In total since the week ending March 16 — the first big week of claims related to COVID-19 job losses — ESD has paid out nearly $150 million in benefits to Washingtonians.

“It remains critical that people stay home and stay healthy, that is paramount,” said Employment Security Commissioner Suzi LeVine. “The increased utilization of unemployment insurance across the state demonstrates that more and more people are abiding by this order. Although the number of initial claims is down slightly from last week, we need to be cautious that this does not yet depict a trend.”

Below is a five-week summary of statewide initial claims filed since the start of the COVID-19 crisis:

For the week ending on: Total number unemployment  claims paid Number initial unemployment  claims**  Increase/decrease of   initial unemployment   claims over previous   week Increase of initial unemployment claims over same week in 2019
Mar 7      46,528       6,548    +18.6%           1%
Mar 14    45,436     14,154   +116%       182%
Mar 21    48,180   128,962*   +811%    2,568%
Mar 28    99,843   181,975    +41%    3,513%
Apr 4   182,315   170,063    -6.5%    2,627%

*This number was revised downward from 133,464 to 128,962 by the U.S. Department of Labor.
** Initial claims include claims that are still being reviewed for eligibility. Counts for initial claims are not indicative of the number of claims that will result in monetary compensation

5-week summary of initial claims from March 7 - April 4 2020

Weekly data breakdown

By industry

Industry sectors experiencing the highest number of initial claims during March 29 – April 4 were:

  • Construction:  24,394 initial claims, down 3,627 initial claims from the previous week
  • Retail trade:  20,508 initial claims, down 1,494 initial claims from the previous week
  • Health care and social assistance: 19,462 initial claims, down 803 initial claims from previous week
  • Accommodation and food services: 18,017 initial claims, down 5,343 initial claims from previous week
  • Manufacturing: 12,973 initial claims, down 994 initial claims from previous week

Industry sectors experiencing the highest percentage increase of initial claims during March 29 – April 4 were:

  • Management of companies and enterprises sector: 270 initial claims, up 94% from the previous week.
  • Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction: 167 initial claims, up 86% from the previous week
  • Transportation and warehousing: 4,625 initial claims, up 27% from the previous week
  • Arts, entertainment, and recreation: 6,762 initial claims, up 25% from the previous week
  • Wholesale trade: 6,008 initial claims, up 15% from the previous week

By county

King County the most populous in the state and one that had already experienced a rise in claims the prior two weeks, saw initial claims increase from 44,613 to 47,233 during the week of March 29 – April 4, up 6% from the week before. Snohomish County, on the other hand, saw a slight decrease in claims, with 21,148 reported, compared to 21,176 the previous week.


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