Snohomish County unemployment numbers staggering
SNOHOMISH COUNTY — Snohomish County sits near the apex of a rocketing rise in state unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Initial unemployment claims filed in the county jumped from 733 the first week of March to 21,176 during the fourth, mirroring a similar surge both state and nationwide.
“We saw a bit of an increase in week 10 (of 2020), then it just skyrocketed,” said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, an Everett-based state regional labor economist. “It blew everybody out of the water.”
Almost 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits the week of March 22-28, doubling a record high set a week earlier.
In Washington, a record 181,975 people filed for unemployment the last week of March, according to the state Employment Security Department (ESD).
Vance-Sherman said the suddenness and magnitude of the rise in unemployment claims distinguish the COVID-19 pandemic from earlier crises such as the Recession that began in 2008.
“We haven’t seen anything like this before,” she said. “Predicting it is something we can’t do.”
The Employment Security Department is dispersing federal emergency funds, called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, to provide 13 added weeks of benefits and an extra $600 a week on top of regular payments to new and current unemployment recipients.
The department is also accepting atypical unemployment applicants such as self-employed workers, independent contractors, gig workers and persons who have not worked 680 hours the previous year.
Another new twist: workers temporarily laid off from part-time jobs are allowed to collect benefits without a requirement to seek new employment.
People whose work hours were reduced directly because of COVID-19 are also eligible for unemployment. “Eligibility decisions are made on a case-by-case basis,” a department spokeswoman said.
But it will take until April 18 for the ESD to upgrade its software and begin processing such claims, Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine said last week.
She asked people who normally wouldn’t qualify to hold off on applying for unemployment because the system is not ready to accept their applications. Once their applications are accepted, they will receive retroactive benefits including the $600 weekly extra payment.
Because the situation is so fluid, Vance-Sherman recommends frequently checking the department’s website at www.esd.wa.gov
On the website, users can find information about benefits, file an unemployment application, or find a special page devoted to issues associated with COVID-19.
“It’s fast and furious right now,” Vance-Sherman said. “We’re working hard to make sense of it.”
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