Washington state unemployment rate matches pre-pandemic low

Washington’s economy lost 2,300 jobs in May. The job losses were concentrated in retail trade — down 6,600 jobs — and in professional and business services, down 3,800 jobs. January 2021 was the last time Washington state lost jobs.

“In May, the labor market received some mixed messaging,” said Paul Turek, the Employment Security Department’s (ESD) state economist.

“Household members continue to find jobs even as the pace of hiring appears to be slowing. In addition, total state employment has now reached pre-pandemic levels.”

Also in May, the preliminary seasonally adjusted monthly unemployment rate dropped slightly to 3.9 percent.

ESD paid unemployment insurance benefits to 38,135 people in May — a decrease of 6,826 over the previous month. Decreases in construction, agriculture, and transportation and warehousing contributed to the overall decrease in paid claims over the month.

The national unemployment remained constant in May at the preliminary rate of 3.6 percent. For comparison, the national unemployment rate (revised) for May 2021 was 5.8 percent.

The state’s labor force in May was 4,036,300 — an increase of 13,000 people from the previous month. (Labor force is defined as the total number of people, both employed and unemployed, over the age of 16.)

From May 2021 to May 2022, the state’s labor force increased by 141,800.

From April to May, the number of people who were unemployed statewide decreased from 163,000 to 158,900.

In May, eight industry sectors expanded while five contracted. Private sector employment decreased by 2,100 jobs while government employment decreased by 200 jobs.

From May 2021 to May 2022, 12 major industry sectors expanded and one contracted. The three industry sectors with the largest employment gains year over year, not seasonally adjusted, were: leisure and hospitality, up 55,700 jobs; professional and business services, up 34,600 jobs; and, education and health services, up 23,300 jobs.

Mining and logging is the one industry sector that contracted, losing 300 jobs from May 2021 to May 2022.

State wage increase is second-largest on record

Washington state’s average annual wage grew by 7.5 percent in 2021 to $82,508, according to the state Employment Security Department. The strong demand for workers and hiring difficulties across different sectors drove average wage growth in 2021 to the second largest increase on record.

All industry sectors experienced average wage growth in 2021. The greatest wage growth occurred in industry sectors with large numbers of lower-wage workers, including: leisure and hospitality, up 14.2 percent; transportation and warehousing, up 7.6 percent; and retail trade, up 6.5 percent.

The average weekly wage also rose from $1,475 in 2020 to $1,586 in 2021. (Note: These figures include only those wages that are covered by unemployment insurance.)