Jobless rate in Washington increased to 5.1% in March

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington’s unemployment rate increased to 5.1% last month and the state’s economy lost more than 11,000 jobs, though officials noted that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the workforce isn’t likely to be fully reflected until the April report is released next month.

March’s rate jumped from 3.8% in February, according to numbers released Wednesday by the Employment Security Department. The rate for April could be even higher since the widespread closing of restaurants and other businesses didn’t occur until mid-March.

“As a result, even if some firms started laying off workers as early as the second week of March, many still would have worked or received pay for at least part of the payroll period including the 12th, and thus their loss of employment is not yet fully reflected in the March report,” Paul Turek, economist for the department, said in a statement.

Washington state’s stay-at-home order, which has already been extended once, is currently in place through May 4, though Gov. Jay Inslee has warned that it is possible the order may have to be extended once again.

The national unemployment rate for March was 4.4 percent, and the rate in the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett region was 5.5 percent.

Last month, private sector employment decreased by 11,700 while the public sector increased by 600 jobs. The largest job growth was seen in construction and professional and business services. The largest losses in March were seen in leisure and hospitality, financial activities and manufacturing.

Job gains and losses are estimates based on a survey by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate counts the percentage of people who are unemployed and actively looking for work, and it doesn’t include those who have stopped looking for work.

Unemployment insurance benefits were paid out to 185,458 people in March. New numbers on how many claims have been filed in the state are set to be released Thursday. As of last week, nearly half a million people in the state had filed for unemployment benefits since mid-March.

Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine has said that she expected claims to surge again in the coming weeks as previously ineligible employees — like independent contractors and part-time employees who work fewer than 680 hours — can start applying for benefits under the expansion of unemployment benefits passed by Congress.

The state has been working to update their system by Saturday to begin receiving and processing applications at that time from the newly eligible workers. The department also plans at that time to start paying out the additional $600 in weekly jobless aid that was part of the federal economic rescue package, that is added on top of what recipients receive from their states and extends 13 additional weeks of benefits beyond the six months of jobless aid that most states offer.

In Washington state, where the maximum weekly benefit is $790 a week, the additional money will start being paid will be paid retroactive back to March 29, officials said.