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More record-breaking unemployment as Washington's stay home order is extended

caption: Stay Home, Stay Healthy
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Stay Home, Stay Healthy
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

"Closed" signs hang on storefronts throughout Washington state as more people report being out of work.

KUOW's Paige Browning joined us with an update on the jobless situation in the state.

The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

These new numbers are just stunning, unemployment claims in Washington again breaking records. How many people have lost their jobs?

Paige: Here is the number that sticks with me -- 310,000. That's how many people in the last two weeks have lost their jobs in Washington state, and filed for unemployment.

It can be hard to grasp that number. For comparison, in the weeks before, 5,000 or up to 14,000 people filed for unemployment insurance.

That's just the people who are able to file so far, with the state hotline flooded with calls. Should we brace ourselves for higher numbers, at least in the near term?

Paige: Yes, that's a sad truth. It's expected that more people will lose their job, with businesses slimming down right now, or shutting their doors until the pandemic subsides.

And you can kind of see the way this wave is hitting. First, events were canceled, so many independent artists lost work, then restaurants and bars got the order to stop having sit-down customers, and now those workers are starting to lose jobs.

Gary Barbo is one of them. He was head chef at Ravishing Radish Catering until he lost his job about two weeks ago:

"I've never been laid off before," Barbo said. "I mean, I've quit plenty of jobs. Work isn't something I've ever had to worry about finding, and currently, I don't know."

A lot of unknowns right now. We're starting to see this wave take on more industries, not only the service industry. Macy's has furloughed workers. Boeing is rumored to be offering early retirement if not layoff. Pacific Northwest Ballet has had to layoff or reduce hours for all but 39 staff members, for now. Pet-service company Rover has laid off 50% of its workers this week.

And I'm hearing rumors that some of our local concert and art venues are going to close for good, but just haven't made it public yet.

Because of the economic hardships, we're seeing more calls for rent relief and other economic help. What's the latest?

Paige: Already, evictions are banned in Washington for at least the next couple of weeks -- that's for tenants or nonprofits and other small businesses. They don’t have to pay rent right now, but the will have to pay eventually.

The Seattle City Council wants a rent moratorium. That means people would not owe the rent back later. Seattle is working alongside city councils in New York, L.A., and San Francisco, to push the federal government to give renters a break, completely

It's not getting steam at the federal level. And even Seattle's mayor doesn't sound like she's for it. She points to tenant contracts.

“The Constitution prohibits governments from breaking individual contracts, but what we can do is first make sure nobody gets evicted," Mayor Jenny Durkan said. "We’re making sure no power, light or anything is cut off. And then we’ve got to get systems in place to actually get people the resources they need."

Durkan says she is interested in a freeze on rent increases, so we could see that.

All of this is happening, of course, because people are ordered to stay home so we don't spread the coronavirus. Is the outbreak still getting worse here?

Paige: Yes. We are still having more people diagnosed every day. As of the latest update from the state, there are about 6,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Washington. It's going up by a few hundred every day, and 4% of those patients have died, here in Washington state.

Do we know how long Washington state will be under the stay-home order?

By now we know it's going to be longer than the two weeks we planned for. Governor Jay Inslee has said it's very likely he'll extend it, but he hasn't said how far out.

Governor Inslee extended the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order until May 5, 2020.

Paige: In Seattle at least, Mayor Durkan told KUOW today she wants us to stay home longer.

“Even with the steps we have taken, we should expect that at least 30% of the people of this region will contract the virus, which is all the more reason we need the governor to extend this stay at home order," Durkan said. "Because the minute we start changing our practices, this virus could accelerate."

And that’s the message we’re hearing from public health officials.

04/07/2020: This story has been corrected to clarify that PNB has also made layoffs, but still has 39 staff members working in some capacity. We incorrectly stated the number of people released from the company in a previous version.

Listen to the interview by clicking the play button above.

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