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Jan. 21, 2022

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Jobless claims, benefits payments jump in Washington amid omicron uncertainty

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New jobless claims in Washington fell slightly last week but remain above prepandemic levels as the state job market absorbed seasonal layoffs, lingering winter weather effects and yet another surge of COVID-19 cases.

Washingtonians filed 11,302 new, or “initial,” claims for jobless benefits in the week ending Saturday, according to data posted Thursday by the state Employment Security Department. That’s down 2.8% from the prior week, but well above the prepandemic level from the same week in 2020.

Washington’s latest claims data comes as the nation saw 11.1% increase in new claims, to 230,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

In Washington, the elevated claims likely reflect how recent extreme weather put extra pressure on sectors, such as construction, farming and manufacturing, that were already seeing normal seasonal layoffs, said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, an ESD regional economist.

But the increase could also reflect “a significant rise in the number of COVID-19 cases” reported last week by the state Department of Health, Vance Sherman added.

Construction workers, for example, filed 5,376 new claims last week. That’s down only modestly from the prior week, when construction claims doubled, to 5,721, the highest level since May 2020.

Manufacturing workers filed 796 new claims last week, down 10.6% from a week earlier, which saw the most new manufacturing claims since early June.

The surge in seasonal layoffs has helped increase not only the number of workers receiving benefits in recent weeks, but also the size of the average benefit payment, which is determined by workers’ wage levels.

Nearly 58,000 Washingtonians collected benefits last week, up 21% from the week before, and total benefits paid out rose 32.6%, to $30.9 million.

The average weekly benefit payment was $533, or almost $100 more than it was in late October. That increase likely reflects the shift in seasonal layoffs from industries such as hospitality, which tend to pay lower wages, to industries such as construction and manufacturing, where wages are often higher.

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