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Sept. 18, 2021

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Washington sees more jobs, fewer layoffs as recovery picks up steam

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New jobless claims in Washington fell last week to their lowest level since the start of the pandemic as the recovering state economy continues to reopen and add jobs.

Washingtonians filed 5,061 new, or “initial,” claims for unemployment benefits last week, a 7.8 percent decrease from the prior week, the state Employment Security Department reported Thursday.

The state saw fewer new claims last week than it has during any other week since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. In fact, the number of new claims filed last week is actually lower than the state was receiving during the weeks before the first pandemic-related layoffs last year.

Washington has also seen a solid increase in hiring. Employers added 24,100 jobs in June, up substantially from 9,100 in May, the ESD reported last week. The state unemployment rate for June was 5.2 percent, unchanged from May’s revised figure.

Nationally, new jobless claims jumped nearly 14 percent last week to 419,000, the highest level in two months, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday. Economists said the increase was likely a temporary change in what has been a months-long decline.

However, Washington’s job market is still some ways from its pre-pandemic vigor. In June, the state’s resident labor force was 3,889,100, or nearly 2 percent less than it was in February 2020, the last full month before the pandemic struck. The unemployment rate in February 2020 was 3.5 percent.

Economists and business leaders expect jobless claims to continue to decline in Washington as the state economy reopens and as safety net programs shift toward a post-pandemic status.

Last month, Gov. Jay Inslee lifted most of the remaining COVID-19-related restrictions on businesses in Washington. And earlier this month, the state reimposed a requirement that Washingtonians collecting jobless benefits must search for work to keep those benefits coming.

In Washington, the number of overall claims — new claims plus ongoing claims that claimants must file each week to receive benefits — dropped 7.2 percent, to 315,2014 last week.

New claims for federal pandemic extended benefits — for workers who have exhausted state unemployment benefits — rose nearly 17 percent last week from the prior week.

Last week, the ESD paid benefits on 235,804 individual claims, down 7.1 percent from the prior week. Because individuals can have multiple claims, the number of those claims is often slightly higher than the number of individual claimants.

Since March 2020, more than 1.1 million Washingtonians have received more than $20 billion in jobless benefits, with about two-thirds of the money coming from the federal government.

By comparison, in each of the previous 10 years, the ESD’s annual payout averaged just over $1 billion, the ESD said.

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