New jobless claims in Washington state fall, but unemployment rate rises

New jobless claims in Washington state fall, but unemployment rate rises

New jobless claims in Washington fell last week, the second drop in as many weeks, but the state’s unemployment rate jumped as pandemic restrictions continued to take out jobs at restaurants and some other in-person businesses.

“The renewed efforts taken to contain the spread of COVID deeply impacted industries that provide high-contact services,” said Paul Turek, economist for the state Employment Security Department (ESD), in a statement Wednesday.

Washingtonians filed 19,212 new, or “initial,” claims last week, a 29.2% decrease from the week before, the ESD reported Thursday.

New claims fell more sharply in Washington than in the nation as a whole, which saw 900,000 initial claims last week, a 2.3% decrease from the week before, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

But Washington’s unemployment rate for December jumped to 7.1%, up from 5.7% the month before, the ESD reported Wednesday. The state lost 9,900 jobs in December, the first loss since last May, as the initial pandemic-related layoffs were tapering off. The U.S. unemployment rate was 6.7% in December.

Turek said the December job losses stemmed, in part, from layoffs at leisure and hospitality companies, which have been heavily affected by restrictions that were reimposed by Gov. Jay Inslee in November as COVID-19 cases surged.

In most other sectors, however, employment was “mostly holding up better,” Turek added.

Washington’s decline in new job claims last week was driven, in part, by large drops in claims from workers in construction and administration jobs, the ESD reported.

The state also saw a decline in “continuing,” or ongoing, claims for benefits that claimants file each week they remain jobless. Last week, Washingtonians filed 437,025 continuing claims, down 7.7% from a week earlier, the ESD reported.

However, for the third week in a row, the ESD did not post some claims data, including the total number of people receiving benefits in Washington. The last time the ESD posted that data — for the week ending Dec. 26 — the agency was paying benefits to 281,328 people.

Also missing this week from the ESD: the number of individuals who had filed claims but had not been paid and were waiting for the ESD to resolve an issue with their claim; the average time required to resolve a problem on a claim; and the average time claimants typically wait to receive their first payment.

Agency officials have said that claims data isn’t available because recently extended federal benefits have changed how ESD calculates who is receiving benefits and how long it takes to pay some claimants.

As of Dec. 26, the most recent date for which the data is available, 39,613 claimants were not receiving benefits and were waiting for the ESD to resolve an issue with their claim.

The agency has rolled out several new benefits authorized in the recent federal stimulus law, including an extra $300 a week that claimants began receiving this month.

Since March, more than a million Washingtonians have been paid more than $13.8 billion in benefits, with roughly two-thirds of the money coming from the federal government.