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Employment Security Department


Contact:   media@esd.wa.gov

Payroll employment plummets, unemployment rate soars

OLYMPIA – Washington’s economy lost 527,000 jobs in April and the state’s preliminary seasonally adjusted monthly unemployment rate for April increased from 5.1 percent to 15.4 percent according to the Employment Security Department (ESD).


Total Job losses

Unemployment rate

2019 Unemployment Rate

March 2020


5.1 percent

4.5 percent

April 2020


15.4 percent

4.4 percent

“The April jobs report numbers confirm what we already expected based on the record number of individuals who have filed for unemployment benefits since March 7,” said ESD Commissioner, Suzi LeVine. “While these numbers are dramatic, it is in alignment with what we expected as the state has taken the public health crisis seriously and is abiding by the 'Stay home, stay healthy' order. These losses are likely to continue into May, with a shift coming the other direction as our economy gradually re-opens. Employment Security, along with our partner agencies and state leaders, are committed to helping Washingtonians during this crisis and get back to work as it becomes safe to do so.”

The Employment Security Department released the preliminary job estimates from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics as part of its Monthly Employment Report.

The department also announced that March’s previously reported unemployment rate of 5.1 was confirmed. March’s preliminary estimated loss of 11,100 jobs was revised to a loss of 25,400 jobs.

The national unemployment rate (preliminary) rose from 4.4 percent in March 2020 to 14.7 percent in April 2020. In April 2019, the national unemployment rate (revised) was 3.6 percent.

Employment Security paid regular unemployment insurance benefits to 599,735 people in April, an increase of 414,277 over the previous month.

Labor force increases as more are added to unemployment rolls

The state’s labor force in April was 3,957,300 – an increase of 66,600 people from the previous month. In the Seattle/Bellevue/Everett region, the labor force increased by 3,800 over the same period.

From April 2019 through April 2020, the state’s labor force grew by 67,700 and the Seattle/Bellevue/Everett region decreased by 6,483.

The labor force is the total number of people, both employed and unemployed, over the age of 16.

From March 2020 to April 2020, the number of people who were unemployed statewide increased from 198,600 to 610,700. In the Seattle/Bellevue/Everett region, the number of people who were unemployed increased from 95,900 to 247,800 over the same period.

All thirteen industry sectors contracted in April

Private sector employment decreased by 498,500 and government employment decreased by 28,500. Provided below is a summary of the number of jobs lost in each industry sector.

              Industry sector                                                        Job losses

Leisure and hospitality




Education and health services


Retail trade


Professional and business services


Other services






Wholesale trade


Transportation, warehousing and utilities


Financial activities




Mining and logging



Year-over-year growth in payroll employment ceases, now turns negative

Washington lost an estimated 485,800 jobs from April 2019 through April 2020, not seasonally adjusted. The private sector contracted by 16.3 percent, down an estimated 463,900 jobs, while public sector employment contracted 3.7 percent with a net loss of 21,900 jobs.

From April 2019 through April 2020, twelve out of the thirteen major industries contracted while only the information sector added jobs.

The three industry sectors with the largest employment losses year-over-year, not seasonally adjusted, were:

  • Leisure and hospitality down 190,700 jobs
  • Construction down 74,100 jobs
  • Education and health services down 59,400 jobs

COVID-19 impacts

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has had impact on the April 2020 survey data. The household survey measures labor force status, including unemployment. The establishment survey measures nonfarm employment by industry.

The information contained in the April report is reflective of workers who worked during or received pay (subject to Unemployment Insurance wages) for the payroll period which includes the 12th day of the month. For the April employment report the survey reference week was for April 12th through April 18th.

Check out additional COVID-19 related information and FAQs from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Labor market information

Check it out! ESD has new labor market information and tools, including interactive Tableau graphics to highlight popular information and data.


Employment Security is a proud partner in the statewide WorkSource system, which provides employment and training assistance to job seekers and businesses. While WorkSource centers are closed for in-person services during the COVID-19 outbreak, customers can still get help from WorkSource staff by phone and through the Live Chat feature on WorkSourceWA.com. The website provides access to thousands of Washington jobs and other employment resources. Chat agents cannot answer unemployment benefit questions.

Note: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently updated its “alternative measures of labor underutilization” for states to include annual averages for first quarter 2020. One such alternative measure is the U-6 rate, which considers not only the unemployed population in the official “U-3” unemployment rate, but also marginally attached workers and those employed part time for economic reasons. The U-6 rate is defined by BLS as the “total unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers.” This U-6 measure measures the “unemployed, underemployed, and those who are not looking but who want a job.”

The U-6 unemployment rate for the first quarter 2020 for Washington state was 7.7 percent. This was higher compared to the 7.6 percent U-6 unemployment rate one quarter prior. The annual U.S. U-6 unemployment rate was 7.2 percent in first quarter 2020.

Labor market information questions regarding COVID-19 

For workers or businesses affected by the current COVID-19 outbreak, the Employment Security Department (ESD) has programs that may be able to help. Please see ESD’s website for more information.  For labor market information questions regarding COVID-19, please email ESD’s Director of Labor Market and Economic Analysis.


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