One of the main barometers for COVID-19’s impact on the workforce, new unemployment insurance claims, fell by about 40 percent last week in Clark County. But overall, it’s still a huge number of claims, and it could go back up.
There were 5,591 new claims reported for the week ending April 11, according to the state Employment Security Department. In contrast, the previous week had 9,378 claims. Clark County workers are filing fewer claims than the state as a whole: Washington had a 16 percent decrease in new unemployment insurance claims last week.
Scott Bailey, regional economist for Southwest Washington, said the trends are relatively new by industry. Workers formerly employed in four sectors — food services, health care, construction and retail trade — are filing the most unemployment insurance claims.
But claims from the manufacturing industry are starting to see a relatively larger increase overall, he said.
The largest occupational group filing claims last week was management, which had 698 claimants; those workers came from a spread of industries, and they include sales managers, marketing managers, construction managers and food service managers.
Bailey said he’s unsure if the downward trend of new claims will continue, but a few factors indicate it might go back up.
One of the factors is the state’s processing of claims from self-employed workers and gig workers, who don’t normally file claims, he said. Those retroactive claims are going to show up in future statistics, he said. Bailey said he’s unaware of how many claims will come from that group, but April 23 should be the first showing.
Another factor is the small-business lending program from the federal government running out. Currently no more money is available to small businesses.
“With small-business support programs maxed out, that could mean small businesses that were hanging on might just pull the plug on operations,” Bailey said.
Washington received 143,241 new claims last week, down from 170,063, according to the state. The country as a whole had 5.2 million claims last week, down from 6.6 million the week before.
March’s unemployment rate will be released on Tuesday, and Bailey said he doesn’t expect to see the full impact of the virus until April’s data, which will be released in May. Nevertheless, Bailey said he expects April’s unemployment percentage to be in the double digits.
It remains to be seen if the downward trend of new unemployment insurance claims will continue, but Bailey said he wouldn’t be surprised if the total number of unemployment insurance claims next week wasn’t overall lower.
“We’ll see ebbs and flows,” Bailey said. “Even if it drops in half next week, that’s a huge number of claims.”