Unprecedented rise in initial state unemployment claims continues for second week in a row

New claims for unemployment benefits soared to a record 181,975 for the week of March 22-28, according to the Employment Security Department (ESD). This represents a 3,513% increase year over year, and a 41% increase over the previous week. By comparison, this is seven times the peak week during the 2008/2009 recession which was 26,075 weekly initial claims. Including the ongoing weekly claims that were filed, ESD saw roughly 350,000 claims come into its claims center last week.

Snohomish County experienced the highest increase in total initial claims, from 13,692 to 21,176 — up 55 percent from the week before.

“These numbers suggest two contrasting points 1) that more and more businesses and individuals are abiding by the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order – which is critical for the health of our fellow Washingtonians, and 2) this virus is having a profoundly negative impact on our economic health, and that Washington businesses and workers are hurting like never before,” said Employment Security Commissioner Suzi LeVine. “We are humbled here at ESD to help mitigate that economic impact by providing workers and businesses with some amount of relief, especially since we all play a key role in battling this virus.”

Since the start of the COVID crisis, LeVine said, the department has “put more than $67M into people’s pockets and into the Washington state economy” between March 15 and March 28. “This weekly amount will only grow as we expect weekly new claims to rise even further,” she said.

LeVine acknowledged that the “deluge of demand” has made it challenging for people to access unemployment benefits. She said the department has improved its website — esd.wa.gov — to assist individuals applying for unemployment benefits online. The department has also added hundreds of additional staff to its unemployment insurance team, has expanded its call center hours to include Saturdays, and is using Sundays to return calls, she said.

Below is a 4-week summary of statewide initial claims filed:

For the week ending on: Number of initial unemployment claims Increase over previous week Increase over same week in 2019
March 7             6,548           18.6%              1%
March 14            14,154           116%          182%
March 21          128,962*           811%       2,568%
March 28          181,975             41%        3,513%

*This number was revised downward from 133,464 to 128,962 by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Graph of initial claims

Weekly data breakdown

By industry

Major industry sectors experiencing the highest percentage increase of initial claims during March 22-28 were:

  • Construction: 28,021 initial claims, up 438 percent from the previous week
  • Wholesale trade: 5,207 initial claims, up 166 percent from the previous week
  • Manufacturing: 13,967 initial claims, up 165 percent from the previous week
  • Retail trade: 22,002 initial claims, up 153 percent from the previous week

The industry sector that experienced the highest percentage change in the state was mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction: 178 initial claims, up 642 percent from the previous week.

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