Washington State to Re-Require Active Job Search for People Receiving Unemployment Benefits

Paul Roberts / The Seattle Times

The nearly 300,000 Washingtonians who are still claiming unemployment benefits will soon be forced to look for work to continue to receive these benefits.

The job search requirement resumes on July 4, the state’s Department of Employment Security (ESD) said on Wednesday.

“With the economic recovery, the job search requirement is coming back into force,” the agency said on its unemployment website. This means that applicants “will be required to look for work and document at least three approved job search activities each week in order to remain eligible for unemployment benefits.”

Some employers have said they hope the return of the requirement, suspended last spring to help slow the spread of COVID-19, will lead to an increase in the number of applicants and help alleviate a labor shortage. which hit sectors such as food service and catering. retail.

But some experts believe the suspension of job search, which other states also allowed after the pandemic, is just one of many factors behind the tight Seattle-area job market. , which, according to a local economist, could be “our” new normal “.

The job search announcement comes amid mixed signs of improving the state’s labor market after the massive layoffs last spring and the patchy recovery that followed.

Last week, Washingtonians filed 8,868 new jobless claims, or “initials,” down 12.1% from the week before, ESD reported Thursday. This is the third consecutive weekly decline.

Nationally, new jobless claims fell 2.3% to 376,000, the lowest level since the pandemic-related layoffs began in March 2020, the US Department of Labor reported Thursday.

Yet Washington’s weekly claims remain high by historical standards – and are roughly on par with numbers seen during the Great Recession.

Hiring also appears to be slowing down. The latest jobs report, released by ESD two weeks ago, showed Washington only created 11,200 jobs in April, up from 28,100 in March and 29,600 in February.

The total number of Washingtonians currently unemployed remains high. Last week, ESD paid benefits on 286,146 claims, down just 1.4% from the previous week. (Because individuals can have multiple requests, the number of such requests is often slightly greater than the number of individual requesters.)

In addition, as of last week, nearly 150,000 Washingtonians had filed for emergency pandemic compensation, a federal allowance paid to claimants who exhaust their 26 weeks of regular state unemployment benefits.

Eligible applicants receive a federal pandemic benefit of $ 300 per week in addition to their state benefits. In total, unemployed Washingtonians received an average weekly payment of $ 655.22, according to ESD data.

Some Washington employers have blamed the recent slowdown in job growth and the large number of applicants to both the additional federal benefit and the lack of job search requirements. Industry groups lobbied Governor Jay Inslee to reinstate the requirement.

But state officials and some economists say the issue is not so clear.

More than 40% of Washingtonians receiving unemployment benefits continued to look for work despite the requirement being suspended, ESD spokesman Nick Demerice said.

Jacob Vigdor, an economist at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Policy, said the causes of the state’s labor shortage go beyond its unemployment policies.

Many workers are being kept away from work because of “the increased difficulty in finding child care services. [and] continuing concerns about health and safety in the workplace, ”Vigdor said in an email.

The lack of childcare services was a major obstacle for several members of a local Facebook support group for the unemployed. “I would love to work but I don’t even think I will be able to until something changes with childcare and in my area it’s really short,” a mother of three said on Wednesday in a article. Another mom who is expecting this summer said she couldn’t find daycare for her toddler.

Some unemployed people may delay their job search until they feel comfortable enough that a sufficient number of people are vaccinated, said Hart Hodges, economist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Business Research at the Western Washington University. “This means that people will start looking for and accepting jobs quite naturally – regardless of the reinstatement of the ESD search requirement,” Hodges said.

Even before the pandemic, the Seattle area faced a tight labor market due to factors such as high housing costs, Vigdor added.

Given these factors, some economists don’t expect a big change with the reinstatement of the job search requirement or even the expiration of the additional $ 300 federal payment in September. “If I consulted my crystal ball, I would predict that we are not going to see any noticeable change in the labor shortage situation here in the Puget Sound area,” said Vigdor.

“I guess people won’t jump at the first job they find,” Hodges added.

ESD will advise applicants of the action they need to take under the reinstated search requirements. Claimants will have to start their job searches again during the week of July 4 to 10 and will have to report these activities when filing claims from the week of July 11 and continue each following week when they claim benefits.

But applicants will be able to include a range of activities in their job search report. This includes applying for specific jobs, but also related activities such as resume preparation, Demerice said.

“There are a whole bunch of different activities that count as a job search,” he said.

Some labor rights activists have been disappointed to see the job search requirement reinstated before ESD addressed some of the bottlenecks in processing applications.

As of this week, ESD reported an average of 9,500 claimants awaiting payment for three weeks or more, up from more than 10,000 in May. Wait times for people calling ESD helpdesk average 40 minutes, according to ESD data.

“We would like to see ESD catch up and commit to paying benefits quickly before adding new administrative burdens for workers,” said Sage Wilson, spokesperson for the labor union-affiliated advocacy group Working Washington. “Otherwise, new job search rules and requirements could simply mean more excuses for ESD to further delay benefits, unfairly disqualify applicants and issue overpayments.”

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