State reports claims for unemployment benefits increased 28% last week. With an asterisk. Unemployment rate climbs to 15.4%.

Nearly 139,000 initial regular unemployment claims were filed last week, according to today’s report from the state Employment Security Department. That’s a 28% bump from the prior week, but it comes with a caution. 

During the week of May 10-16, there were 138,733 initial regular unemployment claims (an increase of 29,308 from the previous week) and 1,670,580 total claims for all unemployment benefit categories (an increase of 369,016 from the previous week) filed by Washingtonians, according to the Employment Security Department (ESD). ESD believes some portion of the high numbers from the past week are due to an increase in fraudulent claims and is looking into how best to correct for that in future reporting cycles.

“Regular claims” do not include claims filed under the federal pandemic unemployment relief program.

The benefit costs are substantial.

ESD paid out over $1.01 billion (an increase of almost $256 million from the previous week) for 565,764 individual claims (an increase of 28,450 from the previous week).

ESD provides this table tracking claims since the beginning of the pandemic.

Since the week ending March 7 when COVID-19 job losses began:

  • A total of 1,937,576 initial claims have been filed during the pandemic (1,222,861 regular unemployment insurance, 381,904 PUA and 332,811 PEUC)
  • A total of 1,106,684 distinct individuals have filed for unemployment benefits
  • ESD has paid out nearly $3.8 billion in benefits
  • 768,217 individuals who have filed an initial claim have been paid

Yesterday, ESD reported on jobs lost in April. The unemployment rate tripled.

Washington’s economy lost 527,000 jobs in April and the state’s preliminary seasonally adjusted monthly unemployment rate for April increased from 5.1 percent to 15.4 percent according to the Employment Security Department (ESD)…

“‘The April jobs report numbers confirm what we already expected based on the record number of individuals who have filed for unemployment benefits since March 7,” said ESD Commissioner, Suzi LeVine. “While these numbers are dramatic, it is in alignment with what we expected as the state has taken the public health crisis seriously and is abiding by the ‘Stay home, stay healthy’ order. These losses are likely to continue into May, with a shift coming the other direction as our economy gradually re-opens.”

We eagerly await the shift in the other direction.