Unemployment claims in 2011 lowest in two years

After two record-setting years, the number of people in Washington receiving unemployment benefits and the amount they received shrank in 2011.

An estimated 440,000 people received benefits in 2011, a 12 percent drop from the all-time record of 503,000 in 2010 and fewer than the 470,231 individuals in 2009.

Benefit payouts will total about $3.2 billion this year, compared to $4.6 billion in 2010 and $4 billion in 2009. More than 54 percent of the 2011 payouts were covered by federal funds, with the rest coming from the state’s benefits fund.

The average length of time Washington workers collected unemployment benefits also declined from 42.2 weeks in 2010 to about 36.2 weeks near the end of 2011.

“Some of the decline is due to an improved economy, and some of it is due to unemployed workers simply running out of benefits,” Employment Security Commissioner Paul Trause said in a press release.

By the end of December, about 70,000 workers will have exhausted all of their unemployment benefits, the most ever during a period when extended benefits were in effect.

“From a workload standpoint, we still had the third-highest number of benefit recipients and payouts ever,” Trause said in the release.

Despite the large workload, the department’s budget is dropping by 16 percent in the July 2011-June 2013 budget period, forcing the agency to initiate its largest layoff in six years. By the end of January, the department will have shed more than 500 positions, with more layoffs expected next summer.

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