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caption: Weekly unemployment claims for King County. Officials watching claims come in for the current week say they expect claims to climb even higher next week.
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Weekly unemployment claims for King County. Officials watching claims come in for the current week say they expect claims to climb even higher next week.

Seattle area unemployment claims skyrocket during second week of COVID-19 business closures

It’s a collapse in employment of historic proportions. Weekly jobless claims in Washington state are five times worse than they were during the worst week of the Great Recession.

Since the escalation of the COVID-19 outbreak in March, a total of 45,000 people in King County have filed for unemployment. In the last week alone, King County filings were up more than 500%.

“Those numbers are hard because what comes as a percentage is actually people’s lives,” said Steven Ross from Washington's Employment Security Department.

Judging by the claims already filed this week, next week's jobless report is likely to be worse, according to state officials.

Unemployment claims at the state level hit 133,464 last week — a number five times worse than the worst week of the Great Recession in December 2008.

State officials said there are no models to prepare them for what may be coming, or for the future shape of a recovery. This situation is much different than the the 2008 financial collapse, which had its roots in financial institutions' corruption of mortgage lending.

The economic situation Washington faces now is caused by the spread of a deadly virus, which is forcing governments to restrict people's movements. That is triggering a collapse in the travel, entertainment, and hospitality sectors, and the damage is now spreading to employers deemed non-essential by the state.

However, the issue does not appear to seriously affect technology companies where work has shifted to workers' homes.

The sudden demand for state help has created a need for more staff at the Employment Security Department. The agency says it is hiring 500 to 1,000 people and is now relying on a surge team of temporary workers.

The department says it's fixed computer systems that stumbled last week over new rules. However, some gig workers may not be eligible for help. Federal aid will be available to anyone who does not qualify.