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CORRECTIONS: The current maximum paid leave benefit was incorrectly reported as $1,375 in the original June 16 press release. The release below has been updated to reflect the correct current maximum paid leave benefit of $1,327.

The headline was also corrected from being the “second largest on record” to the “second largest in more than two decades.” There were two larger increases prior to 2000, in 1998 and 1999.

The term “minimum weekly benefit” was used in the unemployment benefits section to describe the value calculated from 20% of the average weekly wage. The meaning of that term changed as a result of Senate Bill 5061.

Contact: State Economist Paul Turek, 360-706-3044

Washington’s 2021 average annual wage increase: Second largest increase in more than two decades

OLYMPIA – Washington’s average annual wage grew by 7.5% in 2021 to $82,508, according to the state Employment Security Department. The strong demand for workers and hiring difficulties across different sectors drove average wage growth in 2021 to the second largest in more than two decades.

All industry sectors experienced average wage growth in 2021. The greatest wage growth occurred in industry sectors with large numbers of lower-wage workers, such as:

  • Leisure & hospitality, up 14.2%
  • Transportation and warehousing, up 7.6%
  • Retail trade, up 6.5%

The average weekly wage also rose from $1,475 in 2020 to $1,586 in 2021. These figures include only those wages that are covered by unemployment insurance.

The change was driven by a 2.9% increase in the number of jobs in covered employment and a 10.6% increase in total earnings, which grew by nearly $25.7 billion in 2021. The average number of workers in Washington covered by unemployment insurance rose from 3,166,878 in 2020 to 3,257,983 in 2021 – an increase of 91,105 workers.

How the average annual wage is used

The average annual wage is used to calculate:

  • Unemployment benefit claims filed on or after July 3, 2022.
  • Paid family and medical leave (paid leave) benefits filed on or after Jan. 1, 2023.
  • Employers’ taxable wage base beginning Jan. 1, 2023.

The state Department of Labor & Industries also uses the average annual wage to calculate worker’s compensation benefits.

Unemployment benefits
Claimants who receive a weekly benefit amount that’s at least 20% of the average weekly wage will now receive a weekly benefit amount ranging from $317 to $999.

Due to recent legislative changes (SB 5061) the calculation is different for claimants who receive a weekly benefit amount below 20% of the average weekly wage. Their weekly benefit amount will be equal to their personal average weekly wage up to $316.   

Learn more about how the weekly benefit amount is determined.

Paid leave benefits

Currently, the minimum paid leave benefit is $100 while the maximum paid leave benefit is $1,327. Based on an average weekly wage of $1,586 in 2021, the maximum paid leave benefit will be $1,427 for claims filed on or after Jan. 1, 2023. The minimum paid leave benefit will remain at $100.

Employers’ taxable wage base
Washington's unemployment insurance (UI) program is an experience-based system. This means the taxable wage base is the maximum amount on which employers must pay unemployment taxes for each employee. In general, an employer’s tax rate depends on how much their former workers collect in unemployment benefits and the size of their payroll.

The Employment Security Department calculates UI tax rates for businesses and notifies employers by letter at the end of each year. This letter includes the new taxable wage base for the upcoming calendar year.

Beginning in 2023, employers will pay unemployment payroll taxes on the first $67,600 paid to each employee — up from $62,500 in 2022. Learn more about how the UI tax rate is determined for individual employers.  

Table 1: Summary of how average annual wage (AAW) affects benefits and taxes

2021 AAW

2020 AAW

2019 AAW

Average annual wage 




Weekly unemployment

Min. $317
Max. $999

Min. $295
Max. $929

Min. $201
Max. $844

Weekly paid leave benefits

Min. $100
Max. $1,427

Min. $100
Max. $1,327


Employers' UI taxable wage base

On employees' first $67,600 

On employees' first $62,500

On employees' first $56,500