Labor market returns to pre-pandemic employment levels


Whatcom County reached a record high unemployment rate of 17.3 percent in April 2020. Three years later, unemployment rates statewide vary from 3 to 4 percent and employment in both Whatcom County and Washington state has seen a full recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, according to data from the Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD).

As of April 2023, Whatcom County’s preliminary unemployment rate was 3.9 percent, which was nearly a full percentage below last month. The unemployment rate in March 2023 was 4.8 percent. 

The county has a total of 116,294 workers and has gained 1,100 nonfarm jobs since before the pandemic. 

ESD chief labor economist Anneliese Vance-Sherman said recent reports show a full recovery to the labor market from the pandemic, both locally and statewide. In other words, the number of jobs gained since the pandemic exceeds the number of jobs lost.

“March 2023 is the first month that employment evened out,” Vance-Sherman said.

In March 2020, Whatcom County had 96,600 nonfarm jobs. About 14,500 of those jobs were eliminated by April 2020 following governor Jay Inslee’s shutdown order March 23, 2020. Since then, over 15,000 jobs have emerged, surpassing the peak prior to the pandemic. Whatcom County saw 2,200 jobs added just in the last year, and 5,600 the year before. In total, March 2023 saw a total of 97,000 jobs, and April saw 97,700. These numbers are not seasonally adjusted.

Unemployment claims, which show layoff activity, also remain low, although seeing a bump in the past three weeks in Whatcom County. 

During the week of May 14 to May 20, ESD saw 168 initial unemployment claims filed in Whatcom County. In the corresponding week in 2020, 1,418 claims were filed. For the corresponding week in May 2021, 372 claims were filed. A low of 96 claims were filed during the corresponding week in May 2022, while ESD saw an average of 200 claims filed in the weeks leading up to the pandemic in March 2020. 

ESD saw similar trends statewide, where 4,647 claims were filed in the week ending May 20. Over 48,000 claims were filed in Washington in the corresponding week in 2020. And 2022 saw the lowest claims filed with 3,519 collected in that corresponding week.

Washington state saw an increase of 6,100 nonfarm jobs in April 2023 and an increase of 116,700 jobs from April 2022 through April 2023, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

The state unemployment rate was 4.3 percent, a decrease of 0.2 percent from March 2023. In April 2020, the unemployment rate was 15.4 percent.

Nationally, the unemployment rate has ranged from 3.4 percent to 3.7 percent since March, while it was 14.7 percent in April 2020. Nonfarm payroll employment increased nationally by 339,000 in May, but the number of unemployed persons also rose by 440,000 to 6.1 million people.

Vance-Sherman concluded the April report by saying, “After three tumultuous years, the labor market finally feels somewhat familiar again.”  


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here