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More WA Job-Hunters Get Unemployment Checks – But Not All

May 24, 2010

OLYMPIA, Wash. - One in four unemployed workers in Washington does not collect unemployment benefits, according to a national survey. The percentage of people getting unemployment is called the "recipiency rate" and, in Washington, it is 75 percent. To put that in perspective, Sheryl Hutchinson, communications director for the Washington Employment Security Department, says it has doubled since the recession first began.

"Three years ago, when we had record low unemployment in this state, the recipiency rate was somewhere between 35 and 40 percent. The number of people receiving benefits three years ago was a lot smaller than it is now. So, the numbers have grown, and the percentage has grown. In terms of sheer numbers, it's quite an increase."

There are a number of reasons people don't get unemployment. If they didn't work long enough at a job, they didn't build up a so-called "base year" of 680 work hours to qualify them for unemployment; or if they quit a job or were fired with cause, they're not eligible. But Hutchinson says part-time workers who have been laid off have an especially tough time qualifying.

"To receive benefits, you have to be actively seeking work and, in this state, we require that you be actively seeking full-time work. You can't just be looking for part-time work. It's kind of a quirk in the law; we actually have been talking to the Legislature about changing it, but that's what it is right now."

She adds some part-timers can collect unemployment. Her advice for anyone who isn't sure about whether they qualify is that it never hurts to apply, either online or by phone.

Washington's recipiency rate is higher than the national average of 67 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute, the group that did the national survey. But Hutchinson says by the end of this month, about 13,000 people in Washington will have completely run out of unemployment benefits, including the extensions passed by Congress.

The survey by state is available online at

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA