OLYMPIA — Washington was among several states that saw a surge in claims for unemployment benefits as businesses started to temporarily close under state-mandated orders to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Numbers released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Labor and the state Employment Security Department showed that 133,464 new claims for unemployment benefits were filed with the state during the week of March 15-21, a more than nine-fold increase over the previous week.
The state agency has been averaging between 13,000 and 25,000 phone calls every day into its claim centers, spokesman Nick Demerice said. The first week of March, it was between 1,400 and 2,500. He said that during business hours, the agency’s website has averaged 3,000 concurrent users every day since last Tuesday and that in the past two weeks alone, the website had 50 percent of the total active users of all 2019.
Based on the number of claims that have come in already this week and the number of calls the agency is receiving, Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine said the numbers will continue to climb in the state.
“We haven’t seen anything like this in volume and velocity in the history of our unemployment insurance program, going back to the 1930s,” she said in a conference call with reporters. “We understand this is an unprecedented time and a very difficult time for most of the people in our state.”
LeVine said that the agency was looking to hire at least 100 people to help deal with the growing volume of unemployment claims, and said that number could increase to between 500 and 1,000. She noted the jobs can be done remotely.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee issued a stay-at-home order Monday night and ordered all non-essential businesses to close. The order remains in place through at least April 6. It expands previous actions taken by Inslee last week that ordered the statewide closure of bars, dine-in restaurants, and entertainment and recreation facilities and banned large gatherings.
Accommodation and food services were among the industries with the largest jump in claims, according to the Employment Security Department, jumping to more than 41,000, up more than 1,000 percent from the previous week. Health care and social assistance saw nearly 19,000 new claims in that time frame, up more than 2,000 percent from the previous week.