Unemployment insurance claims on the rise in Whatcom County

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Claims for unemployment insurance increased in Whatcom County during the week of November 15 to 21, according to data released by Washington’s Employment Security Department (ESD). While initial claims doubled countywide, and nearly statewide, the number of applications received by ESD is nowhere near the number seen in spring when governor Jay Inslee’s shelter-in-place order went into effect.

There were 985 initial claims filed in the county during the week of November 15 to 21, compared to 482 claims the week before. The ESD hasn’t received this many claims in a given week from Whatcom County since the week of July 5 to 11, when 1,361 claims were filed.

Statewide, 30,274 new claims for unemployment benefits were filed with the ESD during the week of November 15 to 21, which was an increase of 13,437 new claims over the previous week, when 16,837 claims were filed.

This increase in unemployment insurance claims came in the same week Inslee ordered tighter restrictions statewide in order to reduce the spread of Covid-19, closing indoor dine-in services at restaurants and bars.

Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional labor economist with ESD, said during the pandemic unemployment insurance claims have risen when stricter restrictions are put in place.

She said she expects ESD to see initial claims rising in the coming weeks due to the new restrictions but nothing like the amount of applications the department saw in mid-March, April and May.

“We’ve never seen anything like that ever,” Vance-Sherman said.

During the week of March 22 to 28, when Inslee’s March 23 stay-at-home order went into effect, there were 6,492 initial claims in Whatcom County.

Statewide, 181,975 new claims for unemployment benefits were filed with ESD during that week, while the previous week 128,962 claims were filed – an increase of 114,808 from the week before. The week of March 15 to 21, was when Inslee ordered the closing of all schools, bars, restaurants, entertainment and recreational facilities.

Similar to spring, industry sectors that require face-to-face interactions make up a large majority of the recent new claims filed. Vance-Sherman said the accommodation and food services industry is one to watch out for when new restrictions are enacted.

“This is an industry that was specifically identified early on as a risk because of how much face-to-face contact there is,” she said.

The industry sectors that experienced the highest percentage of new claims statewide from November 15 to 21 were accommodation and food services (8,824 new claims, up 468 percent from the previous week), arts, entertainment and recreation (1,438 new claims, up 318 percent from the previous week), educational services (872 new claims, up 171 percent from the previous week), real estate, rental and leasing (318 new claims, up 161 percent from the previous week) and retail trade (2,118 new claims, up 158 percent from the previous week).

Nationwide, in the week ending on November 21, there were 778,000 initial claims, an increase of 30,000 from the previous week’s revised level, according to a November 25 press release from the U.S. Department of Labor.

The four-week moving average was 748,500, an increase of 5,000 new claims from the previous week’s revised average.

“We are still at least double what we saw last year at this time,” Vance-Sherman said, comparing this year’s statewide initial claims applications with last year’s.

In 2019, 7,564 initial claims were filed in Washington state during the corresponding week this year, November 8 to 14, when 16,837 claims were filed.

“What this tells me is there are still a lot of layoffs happening,” Vance-Sherman said.

While she expects to see unemployment insurance claims go up in the weeks to come, Vance-Sherman said to what extent depends on whether the four-week order is extended and how people choose to spend their money.

“Part of it is policy, and part of it is how people are relating with each other and choosing to use their money,” she said.

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