COVID-19 continues to increase peninsula unemployment

Unemployment rose by more than 1 percentage point on the North Olympic Peninsula last month as the effects of COVID-19 continued to hamper the local economy, particularly in the tourism industry, state officials said.

Clallam County’s jobless rate climbed from a revised 10.6 percent in June to a preliminary 12.1 percent in July, the state Employment Security Department reported Tuesday. Jefferson County unemployment went from a revised 10.6 percent in June to a flat 12 percent in July, state officials said.

For comparison, unemployment rates in pre-pandemic July 2019 were 6.2 percent in Clallam County and 5.5 percent in Jefferson County.

“The crystal ball is still kind of hazy at this point,” said Jim Vleming, Employment Security regional economist, in a Tuesday interview.

“I know people are anxious to have things come back to whatever normal may be, but I think it’s going to require patience and a little more time before we get a handle on where we’re going with this.”

Clallam County shed 240 government jobs in July and added 210 private-sector positions, according to an Employment Security analysis.

Jefferson County added 60 private-sector jobs and lost 10 government jobs in July.

Clallam County added 120 leisure and hospitality jobs in July but had lost 930 jobs in that sector over the year.

Jefferson County added 60 jobs in leisure and hospitality in July but had lost 230 over the year.

“That’s pretty much been the story of this pandemic,” Vleming said of the losses in the tourism sector.

“A lot of the areas have just lost a lot of leisure and hospitality jobs, and they’re going to be kind of slow to come back, depending on phases and where we go from here.”

Clallam and Jefferson counties are each in Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phase reopening plan for COVID-19.

“It’s going to be a tough road to bring that back, especially when we enter the winter months and the seasonal months where those numbers kind of decline anyway,” Vleming said.

Clallam County had 27,192 employed residents and 3,735 seeking work last month, Employment Security said. The Clallam County labor force grew by 741 from June to July.

Jefferson County had 11,846 employed residents and 1,613 seeking work last month. The Jefferson County labor force grew by 457 in July, according to state estimates.

Vleming said the larger labor forces “definitely means that there are more people that are out there digging around looking for jobs.”

“I know the job search requirements (for state unemployment assistance) were not in place there for a stretch of this pandemic, so it’s hard to know what we’re going to see with those labor force numbers,” he added.

Meanwhile, state employers added 44,500 jobs in July, and the state unemployment rate rose from 10.0 percent to 10.3 percent, Employment Security said.

“Although payroll job growth continued in July, the pace at which the jobs were added slowed,” said Paul Turek, as economist for the department.

“Over the last three months, nearly half of the jobs lost during the pandemic have come back, but there remains a long way to go.”