Jobless rate falls on Olympic Peninsula

North Olympic Peninsula unemployment fell by at least 1 percentage point for the second consecutive month in September, but COVID-19 continued to hamstring the region’s economy, state officials said.

Clallam County unemployment dipped from a revised 9.6 percent in August to a preliminary 8.4 percent in September, the state Employment Security Department reported Tuesday.

Jefferson County’s jobless rate went from a revised 8.8 percent in August to a preliminary 7.8 percent in September, according to the latest jobs report.

“I think we’re moving in the right direction, but there’s still so many unknowns about what’s going on,” said Jim Vleming, an Employment Security regional economist.

“The (COVID-19) infection rate is kind of going up on the west side of the mountains here.

“We don’t gain a lot of jobs anyway during the winter months,” Vleming added, “so I think it’s going to be kind of a slow winter for job growth.”

Clallam County added 280 nonfarm jobs in September but had shed 90 jobs over the year.

“Leisure and hospitality has taken a big hit,” Vleming said in an Oct. 20 interview. “It’s 810 off of last year.”

Clallam County had 2,130 leisure and hospitality jobs last month compared to 2,940 in September 2019.

Jefferson County lost 520 nonfarm jobs in September and 240 for the year, Employment Security said.

More than half of Jefferson County’s year-to-year job losses were in leisure and hospitality.

Unemployment rates can decrease when jobs are shed because of people commuting to other counties and changes in the size of the labor force.

Both counties saw record unemployment in April — 18.8 percent in Clallam County and 17.4 percent in Jefferson County — at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown.

Unemployment rates in both counties fell by more than 5 percentage points in June, rose by more than 1 percentage point in July and fell by 1 or more percentage points August and September.

Meanwhile, state employers added 2,400 jobs last month and the seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate went from 8.4 percent in August to 7.8 percent in September, Employment Security said.

National unemployment went from 8.4 percent in August to 7.9 percent in September, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The state gained 12,100 private-sector jobs but shed 9,700 public-sector positions over the month.

“Payroll growth slowed markedly in September,” said Paul Turek, an Employment Security economist, in a press release.

“A shift to remote learning apparently led to less government hiring than usual this time of year, which showed up largely in local education.”

Unemployment rates at the county level are not seasonally adjusted because the sample size is too small to accommodate the additional analysis, Employment Security said.

Asotin County had the state’s lowest unemployment rate in September at 4.8 percent. Grays Harbor County had the highest unemployment at 10.0 percent, state officials said.

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