'Mind boggling': Last week's statewide jobless claims set record

OLYMPIA, Wash (AP) — The number of people seeking unemployment benefits in Washington set a new record last week, with tens of thousands more people in the state filing new claims as non-essential businesses remain closed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Numbers released Thursday by the state Employment Security Department showed that 181,975 new claims for unemployment benefits were filed with the state during the week of March 22-28, a 41% increase over the previous week’s earlier record of 128,962 new claims.

ESD Commissioner Suzi LeVine noted that last week’s number of claims is a 3,513% increase over the same week in 2019, calling it a “mind-boggling number.”

Including the ongoing weekly claims previously filed, the agency saw roughly 350,000 cumulative claims come into its claims center last week, LeVine said. She said that more than $67 million in unemployment benefits have been paid out since March 15.

That cumulative number is expected to grow as additional new claims related to the impacts of COVID-19 are filed in the coming weeks, she said.

“Things are not slowing down,” LeVine said.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee issued a stay-at-home order last week that was in effect through April 6, and ordered all non-essential businesses to close through at least April 8. On Thursday, Inslee extended his order to keep non-essential businesses closed and most of the state’s residents home through May 4, saying that social distancing measures must stay in place an additional month in order to minimize the spread of COVID-19. The orders expanded previous actions taken by Inslee that ordered the statewide closure of bars, dine-in restaurants and entertainment and recreation facilities, and banned large gatherings.

In Washington state, there have been 262 COVID-19 deaths and 6,585 confirmed cases. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

Nationally, more than 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week — doubling a record high set just one week earlier. Combined with last week’s report that 3.3 million people sought unemployment aid two weeks ago, the U.S. economy has now suffered nearly 10 million layoffs in just the past few weeks — far exceeding the figure for any corresponding period on record.

Officials say that Thursday’s numbers in Washington state are seven times the peak week seen by the state during the 2008 recession.