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.

“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. Thus far, we have put more than $67M into people’s pockets and into the Washington state economy since the start of the COVID crisis – between March 15 and March 28. This weekly amount will only grow as we expect weekly new claims to rise even further."

“While many have been able to file new and continued claims, we know this deluge of demand has made it challenging for many more to do so. To help people access benefits, we recently improved our ESD website, esd.wa.gov, to assist individuals applying for unemployment benefits online. We also increased our capacity to help more people over the phone by adding hundreds of additional staff to our Unemployment Insurance team and by expanding our call center hours to include Saturdays. We’re using Sundays to return calls.”

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.

By county

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

King County, the most populous in the state and one that had already experienced a precipitous rise in claims the prior week, saw initial claims increase from 37,296 to 44,613 during the week of March 22-28, up 20 percent from the week before.

While all counties experienced a spike in initial claims, the two other counties experiencing the highest increase in initial claims over the previous week were:

  • Pierce County: Initial claims filed increased from 14,730 to 22,145 up 50 percent from the week before.
  • Spokane County: Initial claims filed increased from 8,766 to 12,102 up 38 percent from the week before.

For complete information of weekly new claims by industry sector and county for the year to date, check the weekly unemployment initial claims charts compiled by ESD’s Labor Market & Economic Analysis division. For more information about specific counties, contact one of ESD’s regional local economists.

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