Jobless estimates

Pacific and Pierce counties are tied for highest estimated unemployment in the state, topped only by Grays Harbor County.

OLYMPIA — A new monthly unemployment report has shed more light on the persisting economic challenges Pacific County workers have faced because of the covid-19 pandemic.

The most recent unemployment report from the Washington State Employment Security Department, released on June 23, pegged Pacific County’s unemployment rate at 16.9% in May, down negligibly from 17% in April and up 10% from the 6.9% rate last May. The county is tied for the second-highest unemployment rate in the state, behind only Grays Harbor County’s 19.3% rate.

The statewide unemployment rate dropped more noticeably, from 16.1 to 14.8%. Both the county and state unemployment rates in April and May eclipse the peak rate during the Great Recession.

The May report covered data from mid-April through mid-May, before Pacific County advanced to Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start Plan on May 23. Jim Vleming, regional economist for ESD, said next month’s report covering mid-May through mid-June will provide a clearer picture as to how much the move from Phase 1 to Phase 2 benefited workers in the county, coupled with the increased travel to the county as the summer season got underway.

“You’ll definitely see more of a bounce back in June,” said Vleming. “Especially, I think you’ll see a lot more traffic from Pierce and King [counties], who aren’t able to move into Phase 3. You see those people getting more antsy as we go, so I fully expect you’re going to see an uptick come the June figures.”

The service sector has been hit the hardest in Pacific County since the pandemic began, with ESD estimating 400 service jobs being shed in the county compared to this time last year. Of the jobs that have been lost, the vast majority have been local government jobs or jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry.

In accordance with an overall rebound for the county, Vleming also expects the leisure and hospitality industry to see a bounce back over the next couple of months, due to Pacific County now being in Phase 3 and the fewer restrictions that come with it, there being no serious outbreaks within the county, and summer being in full swing.

“Pacific County is positioned pretty well for people who are going to be staying home and staying close [rather than taking longer distanced vacations]. I think that’s going to be kind of helpful in the long run, and the next couple of months anyway for sure,” Vleming said.

Anecdotally, Vleming said he’s seen or heard advertisements of coastal counties in the state pitching people to visit their area again, such as San Juan County. With decent enough weather, he expects people to begin flocking to beaches if they haven’t already.

Vleming also expects counties that still remain in Phase 1 — including Yakima, Franklin, Benton, Spokane, Chelan and Douglas counties — to not see their economic fortunes rebound as quickly, if at all, over the next couple of months. This month’s unemployment report captures a period when most of Washington’s counties were on the same footing when it came to reopening, while the next couple of monthly reports will show counties in various stages of reopening.

Counties that are in Phase 3 are able to have restaurants and bars be up to 75% dining capacity, while restaurants and bars in counties still in Phase 1 are restricted to only takeout or delivery services. All businesses except for nightclubs and event-hosting are able to open their doors in Phase 3, while businesses still in Phase 1 can only offer curbside pick-up services.

“I think you’re going to see pockets of places doing fairly well, compared to what they normally do, but then you’re going to see other areas that don’t bounce back quite as much,” Vleming said.

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