State unemployment insurance applications increased 843 percent over previous week

The Washington State Employment Security Department reported Thursday that it saw 133,464 new claims for unemployment benefits for the week of March 15-21, an increase of 119,310 claims — or a 843% — over the previous week.

“This data shows the enormity of the situation unfolding in our state,” said Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine. “The velocity and volume of the impact of COVID-19 has created a crisis that is unprecedented in the history of the program — going back to the 1930s when it was established.”

LeVine said her department has “three very clear priorities: get benefits out more quickly to those who are eligible, expand eligibility for those who can utilize this benefit, and help employers find staff for essential jobs. The entire department is doing everything we can to meet the needs of this situation and our fellow Washingtonians.”

Industry sectors experiencing the highest percentage of new claims during March 15-21 were:

  • Accommodation and food services: 41,309 new claims, up 1,033 percent from the previous week
  • Health care and social assistance: 18,902 new claims, up 2,103 percent from the previous week
  • Other services: 9,626 new claims, up 2,871 percent from the previous week
  • Retail trade: 8,700 new claims, up 1,189 percent from the previous week
  • Manufacturing: 5,276 new claims, up 434 percent from the previous week

Demonstrating the COVID-19 wave washing across the state, Spokane County experienced the highest increase, 455 to 8,766 up 1,826 percent from the week before. King County, the most populous in the state and one that had already started to see a precipitous rise in claims the prior week, saw new claims increase from 5,834 to 37,296 during the week of March 15-21, up 539 percent from the week before.

All other counties experienced a spike in new claims, with some of the highest during the same period in:

  • Pierce County: New claims filed increased from 1,559 to 14,730 up 845 percent from the week before.
  • Snohomish County: New claims filed increased from 1,386 to 13,692 up 888 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.

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