Published Friday, March 20, 2020 in The Seattle Times
By Paul Roberts
Seattle Times business reporter
Like much else about the coronavirus pandemic, job losses from the escalating public-health crisis haven’t hit evenly across the Seattle area or the state.
Hotel and restaurant workers, education services employees, and artists and entertainers all saw sharp increases in unemployment claims filed last week, while tech workers, finance and insurance workers, and managers filed relatively few, according to data released Friday by the state Employment Security Department.
Claims by workers at accommodation and food-service companies, hit hard as consumers have withdrawn from public interactions, accounted for a quarter of the 14,154 new claims for unemployment benefits filed during the week ending March 14. (The total is slightly lower than the 14,846 claims reported Thursday by the U.S. labor department.)
Claims by workers at accommodation and food-service companies increased more sharply than in any other sector, jumping nearly 600% over the prior week. Much of increase came from workers in King County, where weekly claims more than tripled, to 5,834.
These increases all occurred before Gov. Jay Inslee’s March 15 announcement closing many restaurants, bars and other public-facing businesses. That suggests the sector could see even more losses in coming weeks.
By contrast, workers in the information, finance and insurance sectors, and in managerial positions, filed only 315 claims — 2.2% of the total.
For example, jobs in the hotel and food-service sector, which is typically characterized by low wages and high turnover, also require lots of the public interaction that health officials say helps spread the coronavirus — and which Gov. Inslee sought to eliminate with his order this week, Vance-Sherman said.
And unlike many jobs in information-related industries, many of these service jobs can’t be done remotely, she added.
Many of the jobs most at risk of layoffs or wage reductions due to the coronavirus epidemic in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties pay between $15 and $25 an hour, according to an analysis by Business Health Trust, an employer benefits company, for the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.
Age is also a dividing line. Last week’s job losses fell most heavily on workers 34 and younger, who accounted for roughly 40% of all claims last week. Much of that was in accommodation and food-service jobs, which “tend to be dominated by young people … making their first steps into the workforce,” Vance-Sherman said.
On Friday, Gov. Inslee formally asked President Donald Trump to declare a major disaster in Washington, which could bring expanded unemployment benefits.
The same day, ESD encouraged ride-share drivers and other “gig” workers to file for unemployment insurance. Although independent contractors and sole proprietors are not currently eligible to apply, whether a gig worker is classified in either of those categories “varies by situation,” said a notice on the department’s website. “Our claims center agents will evaluate situations on a case-by-case basis. We want you to apply anyway.”