Northwest States See Unprecedented Surge In Unemployment Claims
QUICK LINKS FOR STATE UNEMPLOYMENT:
BY TOM BANSE & DEBORAH WANG
Mirroring the national trend, Washington, Oregon and Idaho are experiencing an unprecedented spike in unemployment claims caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the last week, 133,464 Washingtonians, 76,500 Oregonians and over 13,000 Idahoans filed first-time claims for unemployment benefits. In Oregon, that represents a 15-fold increase in claims from the previous week. In Washington, the increase was more than eight-fold. In Idaho, that was a 1,200% increase over the previous week.
“We haven’t seen anything like this in volume and velocity in the history of our unemployment insurance program going back to the 1930s,” said Suzi LeVine, the commissioner of the Washington Employment Security Department. The number of weekly unemployment claims was five times higher than during the peak week of the 2008-2009 recession.
As you might expect, the industries with the biggest surges in layoffs were accommodations and food service. Arts and entertainment also saw “phenomenal” job losses and retail trade registered bigtime.
In Washington, Spokane County experienced the highest rate of increase in claims for the week ended March 23. Snohomish and San Juan counties also recorded staggering percentage increases.
State officials cautioned the numbers may continue to rise in the coming weeks.
“Right now, just from a pure policy perspective and with the shelter in place that is taking place, I have a feeling that we are going to continue to see a large amount of growth when it comes to our initial claims. It has not peaked yet,” said Steve Ross, the labor market information director for the Washington Employment Security Department.
Commissioner LeVine says the department now has three clear priorities: to expand eligibility for benefits, to get benefits out more quickly to those who are eligible, and to help employers find staff for essential jobs.
The department is adding call center and processing staff as fast as it can, but applicants may still encounter trouble filing.
LeVine noted that significant numbers of new jobs are opening up in the grocery, health care, warehouse and package delivery sectors. Unemployment counselors are encouraging the newly laid off to consider switching to a new employer.
For months, minority Republicans in the Washington Legislature have called for limits on the governor’s emergency powers. But now even some Democrats are expressing concerns about the open-endedness of the COVID-19 state of emergency and the limited role of state lawmakers. Continue Reading More Than 630 Days And Counting. When Will Inslee’s State Of Emergency End?
Washington has nine independently elected statewide officeholders. All but one of those elected officials has required their employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The holdout was the lone Republican. Continue Reading A Lone Holdout. Why Washington’s Secretary Of State Says She Didn’t Impose Vaccine Mandate
Roughly nine in 10 employees of the state of Washington are now vaccinated against COVID-19. Gov. Jay Inslee considers that a huge success and a win for public health. But his vaccine mandate has also led to the departure of hundreds of state employees. Now there are questions about the implications for some state services. Continue Reading Will The Passes Get Plowed? Impact Of Vaccine Mandate Firings On State Services Not Yet Clear