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Originally published July 31, 2013 at 5:30 PM | Page modified August 1, 2013 at 6:41 AM

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Washington to lose 9 weeks of long-term jobless benefits

State officials said Wednesday long-term jobless benefits will decrease by nine weeks because Washington’s three-month average unemployment rate now is below 7 percent.

Seattle Times business reporter

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One consequence of Washington state’s declining unemployment rate could cause problems for thousands of jobless workers.

State officials said Wednesday long-term jobless benefits will decrease by nine weeks starting Aug. 11 because Washington’s three-month average unemployment rate now is below 7 percent.

The change affects about 26,000 people who are unemployed and claiming long-term benefits.

Jobless workers currently can receive up to 63 weeks of unemployment benefits: 26 weeks paid for by the state and 37 weeks paid by the federal government. They get a percentage of their previous wages, or anywhere from $148 to $624 weekly.

The federal benefit, which is tied to the state jobless rate and called emergency unemployment compensation, will drop from 37 weeks to 28 weeks, Washington’s Employment Security Department said. All told, the maximum weeks of unemployment benefits will decline from 63 to 54.

“Emergency unemployment compensation played a vital role in helping families and local economies survive the recession,” state Employment Security Commissioner Dale Peinecke said in a news release. “Ramping down the program is hard for workers who are still struggling to find jobs, but it’s a positive sign that the economy is recovering.”

Washington’s unemployment rate dropped to 7 percent in April and held steady at 6.8 percent in May and June. The U.S. rate was 7.6 percent in June.

Extended jobless benefits are paid in a series of four tiers, with tiers two through four determined by the state’s three-month average unemployment rate. The state went off the fourth tier in April 2012 after the three-month average fell below 9 percent.

Now, jobless workers who complete their second tier before Aug. 11 will be able to advance to the third tier and claim up to nine additional weeks of benefits.

But those who end their second tier after Aug. 10 will run out of benefits, with some exceptions. The Department of Labor recently ruled that Boeing Commercial Airplanes workers laid off between April 2012 and June 2015 will be eligible to draw unemployment pay for up to two-and-a-half years through the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance program, designed to help U.S. workers who have lost their jobs because of overseas trade or outsourcing.

As of June, Washington had recovered 84 percent of the 205,000 jobs it lost during the Great Recession.

But the recovery varies widely across industries, with the hard-hit construction sector still well below pre-recession levels, and government cost-cutting now taking a toll on public-sector payrolls.

Also, the long-term unemployed still struggle to find jobs, said Seth Klein, vice president at Trac Associates, which helps laid-off workers with their searches under contract with the state’s Workforce Development Council. “Typically, employers are looking for people who have strong recent work histories and less lengthy gaps in employment.”

An estimated 237,100 people statewide were unemployed and looking for work in June, including about 114,500 who claimed regular, emergency or extended benefits.

Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com. On Twitter: @amyemartinez

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