Friday, January 21, 2022

Pandemic recovery in Washington state remains slow and uneven

If Washingtonians needed another reminder that COVID was not over yet, the latest round of employment data should help.

Last week’s vacancy report showed overall job recruitment is slowing, with Washington adding just 6,300 jobs in October, up from 18,800 in September, even as recruitment in the country rose 70% over the same period. Even with the large losses in education and other government positions, recruitment declined.

But the recovery isn’t just slow, according to data released this week by the Employment Safety Department (ESD): it’s also noticeably uneven, with some of the hardest hit industries and places showing the least progress in recovery.

King County, for example, has recovered much of the estimated 150,000 jobs lost to the pandemic; its workforce is currently within 2% of its October 2019 headcount.

In contrast, the labor force in neighboring Snohomish County is still 7.1% less than it was in October 2019. Only about 300 jobs were added in Snohomish County last year, according to ESD data.

San Juan County has 6.1% fewer jobs than October 2019. In Kittitas County, 8.2% less. In Mason County, 11% less.

Some of these geographic differences reflect the uneven impact of the pandemic on different industries. COVID has been particularly hard hit by the leisure and hospitality industry, with an estimated 46,000 jobs, or 13.5%, still declining for the state as a whole, compared with October 2019. These sectors played a disproportionately large role in some rural districts. In San Juan County, these businesses accounted for one in four jobs.

Likewise, a manufacturing facility that provided one in five jobs in Snohomish County before the pandemic has been hit hard by COVID. For example, the county’s aerospace industry still lacks a quarter of its workers in October 2019.

In King County, manufacturing accounted for only 7% of employment before the pandemic, so the overall impact was much smaller.

In contrast, office businesses – particularly technical, financial, professional and business services, which together made up nearly 30% of King County’s pre-COVID workforce – have not lost as many jobs to begin with and have recovered much better. … In comparison, these sectors accounted for only 12.4% of jobs in Snohomish.

In October, employment in technology, finance, professional and business services in King County was approximately 466,000, which is actually approximately 24,000. more jobs than in these sectors in October 2019.

These differences are reflected in the latest vacancy figures.

According to ESD, the employer with the most online job postings in Washington DC from July to October was Amazon, with 34,726 job postings. It is followed by Microsoft with 3961, Providence Health & Services (2636) and Salesforce (2343), Boeing ranked eighth with 1616.

(Amazon’s numbers include tech jobs, as well as transportation and warehouse employment, reflecting the disproportionate growth in online commerce during the pandemic.)

To some extent, the pandemic has accelerated pre-existing employment trends. Some industries, such as manufacturing, were often struggling before COVID, as were some regions. Counties like Mason, Grace Harbor, Pacific and Jefferson still have not recovered all the jobs they lost during the Great Recession more than a decade ago when the layoff pandemic hit in March 2020.

In many of these counties, where traditional industries such as logging or fishing were already struggling, the pandemic “definitely didn’t help,” says Scott Bailey, regional ESD economist.

Economists warn against reading too many reports in one month. Job numbers are revised frequently, multiple times, as states receive more recent employment information.

But even the encouraging employment news deserves closer scrutiny, warns Debra Glassman, professor of finance and business economics at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business.

Glassman notes that the unemployment rate in Washington was 5% in October, not too far from the 4.1% level in February 2020, right before the pandemic; and no county currently exceeds 6%. “Overall, that sounds good,” says Glassman.

But those numbers can be misleading because unemployment figures often exclude people who are out of work and have stopped looking, Glassman says.

In fact, Washington DC’s labor force participation rate – the proportion of the state’s civilian population that is either working or looking for a job – was just 63.8%, up from 65.7% in February 2020.

More broadly, the government still lacks the roughly 62,000 jobs it had two years ago, despite the fact that many employers offer higher wages and other incentives.

“The labor market continues to be prone to a lot of disruption and disruption associated with the pandemic,” says Glassman. “We cannot yet declare it healthy or go back to ‘normal’.”

Insurance for the economic impact of the pandemic is provided in part by Microsoft Philanthropies. The Seattle Times retains editorial control over this and all coverage.

Nation World News Desk
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