Initial claims rise slightly heading into the new year

Week 51 and the final full week in December saw a slight rise in initial regular unemployment claims as numbers continue to fluctuate heading into 2021.

With vaccination efforts underway both in Washington and across the country, there may be some economic hope on the horizon, but initial claims bounced back up 9.1 percent across the state in the week ending Dec. 26.

There were a total of 19,192 initial claims filed with the Employment Security Department and a total of 497,370 claims in all unemployment categories, which was up 8.4 percent from the prior week. Kitsap County rose from 406 initial claims the previous week to 465.

Initial regular claims are 92 percent above the same week in 2019.

Some of the increase was driven by seasonal layoffs in the construction and agriculture industries, but several other industries held nearly steady, including accommodation and food services, manufacturing, educational services, health care and social assistance industries and retail trade.

The industries with the highest number of initial claims were Construction (3,059 claims, up 692); accommodation and food services (2,095 claims, down 50); health care and social assistance (1,578 claims, down 33); retail trade (1,456 claims, down 1); and manufacturing (1,387 claims, up 97).

A total of $139 million was paid out for 286,178 individual claims in the week ending Dec. 26. Over the past nine month of the pandemic, the ESD has paid $13.2 billion to over one million residents.

Federal benefits extended

Just beforet the close of 2020, Congress passed a sweeping bill that will extend various federal unemployment benefits through April 5.

Residents can apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a program for those who might not normally be able to receive unemployment benefits until March 14, and benefits expire April 5. The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which is for those who have exhausted their regular unemployment benefits, has also been extended through April 5.

Most Washington residents should not experience a gap in benefit reception, ESD commissioner Suzi Levine said. The most important thing a person receiving unemployment can do is continue to submit weekly claims.

“Unemployment benefits are a lifeline to unemployed workers impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, and all help is welcome,” LeVine said. “Our team has been and continues to work quickly and nimbly — especially in light of the many changes that have occurred this past week — to implement this new federal legislation.”