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Unemployment insurance claims in Washington state nearing record high

The Department of Labor (DOL) released data yesterday showing that the percent change in unemployment insurance (UI) claims in Washington state has approached a record high, and is expected to increase even more.

While the most recent state-level data measures filing rates from two weeks ago—the week ending on March 14th—it shows that Washington saw the second-largest over-the-week increase in claims nationally (7,624 additional claims) after California (14,240), and the second largest percentage increase (115%) behind Nevada. 

Washington’s increase for the week of March 14 was also the second-largest increase in the state’s history, in terms of both level and percent.

On the federal level, DOL has more up-to-date data which covers the week that ended on March 21. This data shows that initial UI claims ballooned to 3.3 million last week—an almost 1,500% increase over three weeks ago, when 211,000 initial claims were filed.

DOL releases state-level data on UI claims one week after federal data is released for the same period, therefore the near record breaking figures in Washington state were recorded before the spike in claims represented in the most recent federal data. 

While the official state-level UI data for the week of March 21 is not yet available, DOL has released an advance estimate of initial claims by state. DOL’s advance estimate puts the number of initial claims filed in Washington state for the week ending on March 21 at 133,478, which represents an 837.3% increase from the prior week.

Analyzing the figures, David Cooper and Julia Wolfe of the Economic Policy Institute write that although the advance estimates are not directly comparable to the official count, “still, these advance estimates indicate that when the official data are released next week, they’re going to show historical levels of UI claims for nearly every state.”

Policymakers are working to adapt the UI system to mitigate the economic fallout from the crisis for workers. 

The $2 trillion economic stimulus package entitled the CARES ACT, which heads to President Trump’s desk after passing in the House today, provides unemployed workers with an extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits. It also extends the benefits to gig workers, who are not normally eligible to receive them. 

The legislation is intended to provide unemployed workers with 100% wage replacement.

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