OLYMPIA — The good news couldn’t last forever, as Pacific County’s unemployment rate rose for the first time since the summer last month.
The unemployment rate in the county jumped from 8% in October to 9.4% in November, according to preliminary monthly data from the Washington State Employment Security Department released last week. The rise ended four months of positive gains for Pacific County, as workers and businesses continue to try and recover economically from the covid-19 pandemic.
Across Washington, the statewide unemployment rate remained unchanged at 5.9%, below the national rate of 6.7%. Pacific County has the second highest unemployment rate of the state’s 39 counties, ahead of only neighboring Grays Harbor County (9.6%).
The civilian labor force in the county shrunk to its lowest level since the spring of 2014, from 8,424 people in October to 7,779 people in November. The total number of people employed in Pacific County — 7,051 — is the lowest monthly total since 2014 as well.
Compared to 2019 data, the ever critical leisure and hospitality industry has been hit the hardest this fall, with employment down 16.5%, from an estimated 970 jobs last November to just 810 jobs this November. The biggest industry in the county, governmental jobs — at the municipal, county, state and federal level — are down 7.2% from last year, representing a decrease of 130 jobs. Manufacturing jobs are down by 13.3% and retail trade jobs are down 9.8%.
Congress, Trump finally act on pandemic relief
Additional financial assistance is finally on the way to tens of thousands of Pacific County residents and businesses, as President Donald Trump signed into law on Dec. 27 a $2.3 trillion covid-19 relief and spending package that was overwhelmingly approved by Congress. The legislation will provide direct financial assistance to individuals and a new round of forgivable loans to small businesses that have been negatively affected by the pandemic.
The bill directs $600 in direct payments to individuals earning up to $75,000 a year, and $1,200 to couples filing jointly who earn up to $150,000 annually. Households will also receive $600 for every dependent child under the age of 18. As was the case with the direct payments issued last spring, eligibility is based on 2019 tax returns.
On Dec. 28, the House of Representatives approved by a 2-to-1 margin to increase the $600 direct payments to $2,000, a move supported by Trump, nearly all Congressional Democrats and some Republicans — including Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler. As of the Observer’s Dec. 29 print deadline, the measure had not been voted on in the Senate, where it is expected to face more significant opposition.
Also included in the legislation is additional federal unemployment insurance benefits — in addition to any state benefits — slotted at $300 per week that is set to run through mid-March. The original CARES Act provided $600 per week in unemployment benefits, but that provision expired over the summer.
Because of the president’s delay in signing the covid-relief package, jobless people in many states will experience a one-week gap in covid-related supplements. However, an emergency payment will be issued by the Washington State Employment Security Department to all jobless claimants who were in active status the week ending Nov. 21, and will total $550 per claimant, which equates to roughly two weeks of benefits for most PUA recipients.
The federal legislation bill also provides a new round of funding for small businesses via the Paycheck Protection Program, a CARES Act program that more than 250 Pacific County businesses utilized over the spring and summer. The program provides forgivable loans to approved applicants, who must use the funds within 8 to 24 weeks. At least 60% of the funds must be used to cover payroll expenses in order to be forgiven, and the rest can be used to cover expenses such as rent and utilities.
New PPP loans are capped at $2 million, and applicants must have no more than 300 employees. They must also prove at least a 25% drop in revenues from the fourth quarter of 2019 to the same period this year. Businesses that received a PPP loan earlier this year are eligible to receive a second loan, as long as they meet the aforementioned qualifications.