Washington sees record unemployment

Falafel shop workers Bryant Movern (left) and Javohn Ferguson work to pack customer’s takeout orders in a restaurant otherwise closed because of the coronavirus outbreak Tuesday in Seattle.

OLYMPIA — Washington’s unemployment rate shot up to a record 15.4 percent in April and the state’s economy lost 527,000 jobs last month as a result of the economic downturn from the coronavirus pandemic.

That’s the highest jobless rate the state has seen since it started keeping comparable records in the 1970s.

April’s rate, released Wednesday by the state’s Employment Security Department, is a significant jump from March’s 5.1 percent, though officials had warned April’s numbers would more truly reflect the widespread closing of restaurants and other businesses that started in mid-March. February’s unemployment rate was 3.8 percent.

The previous record was 12.2 percent in November 1982, said Paul Turek, an economist for the department.

“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,” Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine said in the news release announcing the rate. “These losses are likely to continue into May, with a shift coming the other direction as our economy gradually re-open.”

Washington’s stay-at-home order — in place since March 23 — has been extended through at least May 31. More than 1 million people in the state have filed for unemployment benefits since businesses started closing in March because of COVID-19.

Gov. Jay Inslee has already eased some restrictions across the state, allowing the resumption of existing construction, fishing and golf, and the reopening of most state parks, as well as curbside pickup for retail sales.

Inslee also announced a four-stage reopening plan earlier this month, and has allowed counties with fewer new cases to apply to jump ahead to the second stage, which allows some businesses to reopen, including dine-in restaurants at half capacity. Ten counties have already been approved, and Inslee announced Tuesday that 10 more counties are now eligible to apply.

The national unemployment rate for April was 14.7 percent, and the rate in the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett region was 14.5 percent.

Last month, private sector employment decreased by 498,500 while the public sector lost 28,500 jobs. All 13 industry sectors in the state saw losses last month, with the largest drops seen in leisure and hospitality, construction, education and health services, and retail trade.

Job gains and losses are estimates based on a survey by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate counts the percentage of people who are unemployed and actively looking for work, and it doesn’t include those who have stopped looking for work.

Unemployment insurance benefits were paid out to nearly 600,000 people in April. New numbers on how many claims have been filed in the state are set to be released today.

More than 18,800 people in Washington have tested positive for the coronavirus, and at least 1,031 have died. The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most patients, and the vast majority recover. But it is highly contagious and can cause severe illness and death in some patients, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.

Recommended for you