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Local jobless claims drop but national numbers grow last week

Laid-off workers in Spokane County filed 974 new unemployment claims the week ending Feb. 13, a 4.4% decrease compared with 1,019 claims filed the week before, according to the ESD.  (Associated Press)
Laid-off workers in Spokane County filed 974 new unemployment claims the week ending Feb. 13, a 4.4% decrease compared with 1,019 claims filed the week before, according to the ESD. (Associated Press)

New jobless claims in the state and Spokane County declined the week ending Nov. 14, following a double-digit spike that occurred a week prior, according to the Washington State Employment Security Department.

Laid-off workers in the state filed 16,837 new jobless claims last week, down 33.2% compared with the previous week, the department reported Thursday. The decrease in new claims last week was expected because of a classification change, the ESD said in a statement.

The local trend was reversed nationally last week as 742,000 workers filed new claims. It was the first increase in five weeks and a sign that the resurgent viral outbreak is likely slowing the economy and forcing more companies to cut jobs.

Locally, the numbers were skewed somewhat after federal regulations required the ESD on Nov. 7 to move a portion of claimants from Pandemic Unemployment Assistance to state benefits. As part of that process, some existing claimants had to submit new benefit applications, which contributed to a sharp rise in state claims, according to the department.

The ESD did not provide a number of how many claimants were shifted from Pandemic Unemployment Assistance to state benefits.

“However, we know at the end of October, 26,000 claimants received an alert for reviewing their accounts and updating information, and roughly half had responded as of last week,” Nick Demerice, ESD spokesman, said in an email.

More than 434,114 claims in all unemployment benefit categories were filed last week, a 1.2% increase from a week prior.

The local construction sector saw the greatest number of new claims last week with 2,456, followed by accommodation and food services with 1,887. The health care and social assistance sector filed 1,422 new claims.

Laid-off workers in Spokane County filed 1,107 new unemployment claims the week ending Nov. 14, a 26.7% decrease compared with 1,510 claims filed the week before, according to the employment security department.

In the county, 390 new claims last week came from undisclosed professions, while laid-off workers in the specialty trade places sector filed 123, followed by food services and drinking places, which filed 121 claims, according to ESD data.

Across the nation, the worsening pandemic and arrival of cold weather could accelerate layoffs in the weeks ahead. Of the roughly 20 million Americans receiving some form of unemployment benefits, about half will lose those benefits when two federal programs expire at the end of the year.

“The risk of further job and income loss is high now from business operations being curtailed,” said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, a forecasting firm. “Also, expiration of federal benefits later this year will put renewed strain on household incomes. Overall, the labor market remains under stress.”

The Labor Department’s report Thursday showed that applications for jobless aid rose from 711,000 in the previous week. In March, when the pandemic first intensified, the number had soared to 6.9 million. Before then, applications typically hovered about 225,000 a week.

The surge in confirmed viral infections, and worry about its effect on the economy, are putting pressure on financial markets. The Dow Jones Industrial Average declined in early trading Thursday for a third day.

The economy’s modest recovery is increasingly at risk, with newly confirmed daily infections in the United States having exploded 80% over the past two weeks to the highest levels on record.

More states and cities are issuing mask mandates, limiting the size of gatherings, restricting restaurant dining, closing gyms or reducing the hours and capacity of bars, stores and other businesses. At least 15 states have tightened curbs on businesses to try to slow infections.

The number of people who are continuing to receive traditional unemployment benefits fell to 6.4 million, the government said Thursday, from 6.8 million. Some of that decline reflects more hiring.

But it also indicates that many jobless people have used up their state unemployment aid – which typically expires after six months – and have transitioned to a federal extended benefits program that lasts 13 more weeks.

Yet that extended benefit program is one of two federal supports that are set to expire at year’s end, eliminating benefits for 9.1 million people, according to a report Wednesday from The Century Foundation. Congress has so far failed to agree on any new stimulus package for jobless individuals and struggling businesses. The cutoff of aid will sharply reduce income for the unemployed, force a further reduction in their spending and perhaps weaken the economy.

One of those programs is Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which made self-employed and contract workers eligible for unemployment aid for the first time. PUA was established by a multi-trillion-dollar aid package that Congress enacted in the spring.

The second measure in the stimulus package provided the additional 13 weeks of benefits for unemployed people who have used up their state benefits.

When those two programs expire on Dec. 26, the Century Foundation estimates that 12 million people will lose their benefits. About 2.9 million will probably transition to a state extended benefit program that can last from six to 20 weeks, the report said. The rest will lose benefits that average about $320 a week nationally.

The expiration of benefits will make it harder for the unemployed to make rent payments, afford food or keep up with utility bills. Most economists agree that because unemployed people tend to quickly spend their benefits, such aid is effective in boosting the economy.

Cutting off benefits with so many people still receiving them would be unusually early compared with previous recessions. In the Great Recession of 2008-2009, the government extended unemployment benefits to 99 weeks, and the additional aid lasted through 2013. When that program ended, about 1.3 million people lost benefits – a fraction of the number who would lose their aid at the end of this year.

“We’re still down 10 million jobs since the pandemic began,” said Elizabeth Pancotti, co-author of the Century Foundation report and a policy advisor at Employ America, a left-leaning think tank. “We’re heading into the winter, we’re seeing additional business closures, consumer demand is already falling….Cutting off benefits seems inhumane to me.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Amy Edelen can be reached at (509) 459-5581 or at

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