Media contact: Jamie Swift, communications manager, 360-902-0904

OLYMPIA – The state of Washington has paid out $28 billion in unemployment benefits to more than 11 million workers since the unemployment-insurance system was created 75 years ago. 

On Aug. 14, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Social Security Act, which also created the unemployment-insurance program. The purpose of unemployment insurance, said FDR, is to “give some measure of protection to the average citizen and his family against the loss of a job” and to “lessen the impact of future depressions." 

The program continues to accomplish those lofty goals, said Employment Security Commissioner Karen Lee. 

“For 75 years, unemployment insurance has helped Americans weather the cyclical nature of our economy,” Lee said. “From the Great Depression to the Great Recession and all of the economic downturns in between, unemployment benefits have been a lifeline for jobless workers and their families.”

Washington was one of five states – including New York, California, Massachusetts and Utah – to pass legislation in 1935 in anticipation of the Social Security Act. But it wasn’t until 1938 that Washington began collecting unemployment-insurance taxes from employers.

Just over $6 million in benefits were paid to jobless workers in Washington in 1939, the first year benefits were paid to claimants. That also was the year the Washington State Employment Security Department, as it exists today, was created. 

The average weekly benefit check was less than $12, and the maximum benefit check was about $15.

Last year, more than 470,000 people collected $4 billion in benefits in Washington state, compared to nearly 78,000 claimants in 1940 (claimant numbers for 1939 are not available). 

The average check is now about $380, and the maximum for 2010 claims is $570.  Each dollar of unemployment benefits currently generates an estimated $1.62 in additional economic activity. 

Nearly 250,000 Washington workers were covered by the insurance program in its first year, compared to nearly 2.8 million today.


Employment Security Department: www.esd.wa.gov/ 

Broadcast version

August fourteenth marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of unemployment insurance in the United States.

The unemployment-insurance program was included in the Social Security Act, signed by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935. 

In Washington state, more than eleven million jobless workers have collected 28-billion dollars in unemployment benefits since the program began. 

The first benefits were paid in our state in 1939, totaling about six–million dollars. That’s compared to the four-billion dollars paid to unemployed workers last year.

The average weekly benefit check in 1939 was less than twelve dollars. The current average is about three-hundred-eighty dollars.