OLYMPIA — Pacific County’s unemployment rate ticked back down into the single digits last month, according to preliminary data released last week by the Washington State Employment Security Department.
ESD’s monthly report pegged the county’s unemployment rate at 9% in February, down from 9.3% in January but up from 7.2% last February, the last so-called “pre-covid” month. Pacific County also no longer lays claim to having the worst unemployment rate in the state, with Grays Harbor, Pend Oreille and Ferry counties all having a higher unemployment rate last month.
While the data looks uninspiring at surface level, there are promising trends under the hood for Pacific County workers and businesses as the covid-19 economic recovery continues.
For one, there were 140 more overall nonfarm jobs — 5,980 — in the county this February than there were last February — 5,840 — which in itself was one of the strongest Februaries Pacific County has recorded over the past several decades. There were also 260 more jobs in the private sector last month compared to the year prior, with every industry but governmental jobs posting raw year-over-year employment gains.
The loss of an estimated 120 governmental jobs in the county compared to last February can partly be attributed to budget cuts that had to be made by municipal, county, state and federal governments alike, according to ESD regional economist Jim Vleming. Many of those cuts were made in the early stages of the pandemic, and as the recovery from covid-19 continues, he’s hopeful many of those jobs will eventually come back.
The industry with the biggest raw job gain compared to the previous year was the leisure and hospitality industry, jumping from 910 jobs in February 2020 to an estimated 1,010 jobs this February — a staggering total for the industry that’s outside of its traditional tourism season. Retail trade jobs are also up over the year for February, from an estimated 590 jobs in 2020 to 640 in 2021.
The gains made in these industries over last February are a positive indicator for the Long Beach Peninsula, which relies heavily on tourism. And Vleming expects that the gains won’t stop here.
“With pent up demand [to travel] and everything, they’re just going to go up and up and up from there. So I think it’s shaping up to be a pretty decent spring — granted there’s no backslide in infections or any of these new variants or something like that,” Vleming said.
February’s numbers are also likely to get rosier once the revised data for the month is released in a few weeks. For each of the five previous months, the revised and more accurate data in Pacific County has contained better news than the preliminary numbers. In January, preliminary data pegged the county’s unemployment rate at 10.3%, but the revised numbers for the month that were released last week had the unemployment rate at a much lower 9.3%.