National and Washington unemployment claims decreased last week, but remain extraordinarily high.

Initial claims for regular unemployment insurance benefits declined last week, both at the national level and here in Washington. 

The state Employment Security Department reports a 29% drop.

During the week of January 10-16, there were 19,212 initial regular unemployment claims (down 29.2 percent from the prior week) and 468,801 total claims for all unemployment benefit categories (down 9.1 percent from the prior week) filed by Washingtonians, according to the Employment Security Department (ESD).  

  • Initial regular claims applications remain at elevated levels and are at 114 percent above last year’s weekly new claims applications.
  • Initial claims for regular unemployment, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), and continued/ongoing claims for regular benefits all decreased over the week.
  • Reductions in seasonal layoffs in construction drove a decrease in new regular jobless claims last week. Regular initial claims in the construction sector decreased by 838 over the week to 2,361 total regular initial claims. Reduction in layoffs from the Administration and Support industry sector also contributed to the decrease in regular initial claims over the week with initial claims in this sector decreasing by 526 initial claims over the week.

Reporting in The Seattle Times, Paul Roberts writes,

New jobless claims in Washington fell last week, the second drop in as many weeks, but the state’s unemployment rate jumped as pandemic restrictions continued to take out jobs at restaurants and some other in-person businesses.

“The renewed efforts taken to contain the spread of COVID deeply impacted industries that provide high-contact services,” said Paul Turek, economist for the state Employment Security Department (ESD), in a statement Wednesday.

Nationally, the U.S. Department of Labor reports a decline, as well. Both state and national claims remain highly elevated compared to pre-pandemic levels. 

In the week ending January 16, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 900,000, a decrease of 26,000 from the previous week’s revised level. The previous week’s level was revised down by 39,000 from 965,000 to 926,000. The 4-week moving average was 848,000, an increase of 23,500 from the previous week’s revised average. The previous week’s average was revised down by 9,750 from 834,250 to 824,500.

The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 3.6 percent for the week ending January 9, unchanged from the previous week’s revised rate.

The chart shows the pandemic effect.

The Associated Press reports,

The government said 5.1 million Americans are continuing to receive state jobless benefits, down from 5.2 million in the previous week. That suggests that while some of the unemployed are finding jobs, others are likely using up their state benefits and transitioning to separate extended-benefit programs.

More than 10 million people are receiving aid from those extended programs, which now offer up to 50 weeks of benefits, or from a new program that provides benefits to contractors and the self-employed. All told, nearly 16 million people were on unemployment in the week that ended Jan. 2, the latest period for which data is available.

“Unemployment claims continue to show a job market unable to progress further as long as COVID-19 remains in the driver’s seat,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at Glassdoor. “While the vaccine offers a light at the end of the tunnel, we’re still far away from a complete reopening of the economy that could drive rehiring and stem further layoffs.”

Unfortunately, that about sums it up.