Newly available federal benefits helped draw more than 145,000 new unemployment claims in Washington state last week, pushing the state’s total to nearly three-quarters of a million as coronavirus continues to hammer the economy.
For the week ending April 25, the state received 145,757 initial claims for unemployment insurance, up nearly 75% from the number of claims received the prior week, according to figures released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Labor.
The large increase came as initial jobless claims nationally dropped 18.5% to 3.8 million, the Labor Department reported
The surge in state claims — the state’s third-largest weekly number — came as tens of thousands of jobless workers who had been previously ineligible for state benefits took advantage of new federal coronavirus relief funds.
While Washington state is not among those with the highest rate of unemployment from coronavirus in the country, Seattle is the city most affected by unemployment due to the coronavirus, according to an analysis of unemployment data by WalletHub.
To identify where workers have been most affected by the coronavirus pandemic, the online financial site compared 180 U.S. cities on how their unemployment rate has changed over time, both year over year and in the period between January and March 2020.
In Seattle, unemployment increased 86.92% between March 2019 and March 2020, the highest increase in the U.S. among cities compared, WalletHub reported. From January 2020 to March 2020, unemployment increased by 105.92%, with 24,006 unemployed people in March 2020 as compared to 11,658 in January this year, the third highest increase.
Officials with the Washington state Employment Security Department, which will report its own jobless figures later Thursday, had expected a surge in claims for unemployment insurance starting last week as the new federal benefits became available to state workers starting April 25.
The federal benefits, which flow through the state’s unemployment insurance system, were part of a $2.2 trillion federal coronavirus bill enacted in March and provide benefits for independent contractors and many other workers not typically eligible to claim unemployment insurance in Washington and other states. The federal package also includes a $600 weekly benefit for all unemployed workers and 13 additional weeks of benefits, which lifts Washington’s total to 39 weeks.
For weeks, the state Employment Security Department has braced for what department commissioner Suzi LeVine characterized as “a tsunami” of additional jobless claims as newly eligible applicants flooded the state’s overworked claims system.
State officials said last week that the new applicants could push Washington’s total number of initial and recurring claims, which stood at 605,514 for the week ending April 18, to as many as 1 million for the week ending April 25.
More than 3.8 million laid-off workers applied for unemployment benefits last week as the U.S. economy slid further into a crisis that is becoming the most devastating since the 1930s.
Nationally, 30.3 million people have filed for jobless aid in the six weeks since the coronavirus outbreak began forcing millions of employers to close their doors and slash their work forces, according to The Associated Press. That is more people than live in the New York and Chicago metropolitan areas combined, and it’s by far the worst string of layoffs on record. It adds up to more than one in six American workers.
With more employers cutting payrolls to save money, economists have forecast that the unemployment rate for April could go as high as 20%. That would be the highest rate since it reached 25% during the Great Depression.
Some outside reviews suggest that the number of job losses is likely even higher than is captured in the weekly unemployment claims. A poll by two academic economists, Alexander Bick and Adam Blandin, found that the U.S. economy may have lost 34 million jobs since mid-March, when the coronavirus shutdowns began.
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.