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caption: Andy Aronis, Assistant General Manager of King's Hardware, smokes a cigarette outside of the boarded up bar and restaurant on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, on Ballard Avenue Northwest in Seattle. "I always felt good working in the bar industry because it's recession proof," said Aronis, who planned to file for unemployment. "The only thing you don't consider working in this industry is if there is a medical pandemic and then we are in the worst industry you could be in."
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Andy Aronis, Assistant General Manager of King's Hardware, smokes a cigarette outside of the boarded up bar and restaurant on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, on Ballard Avenue Northwest in Seattle. "I always felt good working in the bar industry because it's recession proof," said Aronis, who planned to file for unemployment. "The only thing you don't consider working in this industry is if there is a medical pandemic and then we are in the worst industry you could be in."
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

King County unemployment claims triple due to COVID-19 layoffs

King County, at the center of the coronavirus outbreak in Washington state, is now the contending with the economic damage of the disease.

Unemployment claims in King County have more than tripled in a single week, while claims across the state have doubled. The new state numbers show the damage by sector, for the week ending March 14.

Claims from hotel and food service workers are up nearly 600% Arts and entertainment worker claims are up more than 500%. Claims from workers in real estate are also rising.

People 34 and younger are the biggest age group affected, according to the new data. Regional economist Anneliese Vance-Sherman said this is a vulnerable age group.

“A lot of the lower-wage jobs, a lot of the part time jobs that have higher turnover and less stability, often go to younger people," Vance-Sherman said.

Lower wage and part-time jobs are frequently found among the sectors that are hit first by the effects of social distancing orders: restaurants, bars, and other hospitality businesses.

Workers filing for unemployment are applying for help from a system that hasn’t been heavily used in a decade, as the economy boomed. The state says it is seeing claims coming in at levels unseen since the worst weeks of the Great Recession.

Systems have suffered crashes. And a flurry of rule changes designed to help part-time workers and others qualify for state support is also causing grief, because systems had not been updated when public announcements were made.

The Employment Security department says it knows people with good claims have been rejected. It said it is working to get in touch with people who have been unfairly denied.

The weekly unemployment claims data also shows that some sectors are being spared. Jobs in fishing and farming and finance remain strong. Claims in construction are up a little, but overall that sector appears strong.

One developer told KUOW that investors continue to see the technology sector as the driver of growth in Seattle and King County. That sector appears to be largely unscathed by the economic effects of the pandemic, so work toward new residential and office projects continues.