Washington’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased from 15.1 to 9.8 percent in June, according to preliminary data from the Washington State Employment Security Department (WSESD). This comes as Washington gained an estimated 71,000 jobs in June, according to the employment data.
Of the 71,000 jobs added to the state, service providing was the lead category with 62,300 jobs, followed by trade, transportation and utilities at 22,800 jobs and retail trade with 19,400 jobs, according to WSESD data that became available July 17.
“We had a lot of people return to the labor market as a whole,” said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional labor economist
Washington still has a high unemployment rate but it is decreasing quickly, Vance-Sherman said. Governor Jay Inslee’s Safe Start phased reopening plans are reflected in the unemployment decrease, along with a greater clarity on what jobs are considered essential and employers becoming more innovative to comply with Covid-19 mandates while continuing to serve customers, she said.
“We’re figuring out this environment,” Vance-Sherman said. “We had that first impact. We’re figuring how to navigate what this looks like.”
In February, the state unemployment rate was 3.8 percent – the lowest since at least 1976. It increased to 5.1 percent in March before climbing to 16.3 percent in April. In Whatcom County, the unemployment rate was slightly higher in February at 5 percent, and then it decreased to 4.7 percent in March before jumping to 17.7 percent in April. The unemployment rate then decreased from 15.6 percent in May to 10.5 percent in June, according to WSESD data.
Whatcom County’s higher unemployment is caused from tourism and manufacturing being some of the industries hit the hardest from Covid-19 unemployment, Vance-Sherman said. King and Snohomish counties, two of the most populated counties, also sway state statistics but when removed, Whatcom County’s unemployment rate aligns with average state unemployment rates, she said.
Vance-Sherman said the state economy would be in a more difficult spot if this occurred in the years after the 2008 recession.
Washington state will see job recovery in three phases, Vance-Sherman said. Some jobs will find short term adjustments during Covid-19, some jobs will take time to be viable and other jobs won’t come back for a variety of reasons, she said.
“We’re changing some of our habits. We’re changing some of our decisions because of our fear of the pandemic. It is hard to say right now in this chaotic moment what those changes will be,” she said.
Vance-Sherman said she expects to see an acceleration of technology replacing jobs, a transition she’s seen gradually over the past few decades. For example, an increase in online food ordering cuts the need for restaurant staff.
Vance-Sherman said she expects future unemployment rates to hinge on Covid-19 numbers, policy and how households navigate the uncertainty of the pandemic.
“I expect to see some businesses won’t be able to survive this in the near and middle term but some will emerge,” she said. “I expect it to be shaky moving forward.”