Unemployment claims soar in county

New claims for unemployment benefits in Island County matched the spike in the state as a whole, according to Anneliese Vance-Sherman, regional labor economist with the state Employment Security Department.

The number of claims in the county soared to 1,520 for the week of March 22-28, a 2,300 percent increase over the week of March 8-14, the department reported.

Similarly, new claims in the state increased to a record 181,975 for the week of March 22-28. That represents a 3,500 percent increase year over year and a 41 percent increase over the previous week.

“Island County is showing very similar patterns as the state as a whole,” Vance-Sherman said.

Snohomish and King counties, in comparison, had earlier jumps in new claims because of rules about social distancing were instituted earlier than in other parts of the state, she said.

Island County has some vulnerability, she said, because of the number of jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry and the health services sector. There were 2,460 jobs in leisure and hospitality prior to the pandemic; those jobs are generally not considered essential.

The county also had 2,470 jobs in health services. Sherman-Vance said that while it may seem like an essential industry, it is big and includes a variety of services that aren’t deemed essential — such as massage therapists and dentists.

Prior to the pandemic, Island County’s economy was doing well. The unemployment rate for February was at 4.9 percent.

“That’s as low as it gets for Island County,” Vance-Sherman said.

The county gained 700 new jobs year over year, which was a 4 percent growth rate. Just about every industry was seeing growth, she explained.

The pandemic, however, has had an unprecedented impact on the state’s economy, Employment Security Commissioner Suzi LeVine said.

The number of new claims for unemployment benefits in the state March 22-28 was seven times the peak week during the 2008/2009 recession, which was 26,075 weekly initial claims. Including the ongoing weekly claims that were filed, the Employment Security Department saw roughly 350,000 claims come into the claims center last week.

LeVine said the numbers suggest that “more and more businesses and individuals are abiding by the ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy’ order” and that the COVID-19 “is having a profoundly negative impact on our economic health, and that Washington businesses and workers are hurting like never before.”

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