OLYMPIA — Pacific County’s unemployment rate made up substantial ground in June but still remained near the bottom of the pack in the state, according to the Washington State Employment Security Department monthly report released on July 21.
A state economist says a rapid rebound is likely here as the summer goes on.
The county’s unemployment rate stood at 12.2% in the most recent report — which covers the period of mid-May through mid-June — and is down notably from the previous month’s 17.1% rate. Statewide, Washington’s unemployment rate sits at 9.7%, down from 14.8% the previous month. Of Washington’s 39 counties, Pacific County has the third highest unemployment rate, trailing only Grays Harbor County and Ferry County’s 12.4% rate.
The drop in the unemployment rate coincides with Pacific County’s advancement in Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start Plan. The county advanced to Phase 2 of the plan on May 23, and to Phase 3 on June 16 — after the period that covers this month’s report. Jim Vleming, regional economist for ESD, said he expects next month’s report to contain better news for the county.
“I expect [next month’s report] to look fairly decent for Pacific County, because of the weather and the tourism and whatnot,” said Vleming. “People definitely are not staying home at this point, so unless that changes — and I don’t see that changing — I think [the county] will move forward.”
Barring a worsening situation locally or statewide with covid-19 that would require stricter restrictions to again be put in place, Vleming said Pacific County could return close to its pre-pandemic unemployment levels quicker than expected. The county’s unemployment rate hovered around 6.7% in the first three months of 2020, the lowest it had been in the first quarter of a year since at least 1990.
“Especially with the summer and the way it’s going, and the better weather, I think Pacific County is probably not going to be in too bad of shape when it’s all said and done, compared to other areas,” said Vleming. “I think we’re going to be pretty close to where we were in March, would be my guess, by the time we get the July figures.”
As he’s said for months, Vleming said there’s good reason to believe people are taking more localized vacations this summer that are within driving distance, rather than flying distance. For Washington’s coastal counties, some of which are still recovering from the Great Recession, it’s a silver lining amidst a pandemic that threatened to completely upend the prosperous summer tourism season.
Hardest hit sectorsCompared to last June, the number of non-agricultural workers in the county shrunk from 6,100 in 2019 to 5,590 this year, a decrease of 8.4%. A bulk of the losses come from two sectors: leisure and hospitality, and governmental jobs.
In June 2019, the county had 1,120 workers in the leisure and hospitality sector; in 2020, it had 960, a year-over-year drop of 14.3%. The drop can be attributed to the rough start the tourism industry had in spring and the early summer, with hotels remaining closed and restaurants only able to provide takeout service until late May. Even now, restaurants in the county are able to only seat 75% of its total dine-in capacity.
The drop was nearly as steep for public sector jobs, which consists of people working for the municipal, county, state or federal government. There were 1,900 government jobs in the county last June, compared to 1,660 last month; a decrease of 12.6%. Employees have been furloughed, seasonal employees laid off and temporary freezing hires enacted as the various governments brace for budget shortfalls.