Unemployment in county reaches dismal high

“I do think we have a long road ahead of us,” said a regional economist.

The latest labor market statistic for Island County mirrored the dismal numbers of the state as a whole, according to the Washington State Employment Security Department.

Island County’s unemployment rate, not seasonally adjusted, was at its lowest point during the pandemic at 5.8 percent in October. It increased to 6.2 percent in November and jumped to 7.2 percent in December, according to Regional Labor Economist Anneliese Vance-Sherman.

Similarly, the state’s rate went from 5.6 percent to 7.2 percent, she said.

“It’s quite a jump, but nothing compared to April,” she said, explaining that the rate was 16.1 percent that month.

While it increased precipitously, Island County’s unemployment rate was the lowest in the five-county region that includes Skagit, San Juan, Snohomish and Whatcom counties.

Skagit County had the highest rate at 7.9 percent.

Vance-Sherman said part of the reason for the increase is the usual seasonality of unemployment in December and January.

Also, the governor implemented a second round of restrictions in December.

The “reference week” that the state uses to determine unemployment rates happened to be the week that the renewed restrictions were announced, she said.

The county’s labor force also contracted by 6.6 percent, year over year. Vance-Sherman said people tend to leave the job market as recessions progress. In addition, many people, especially women, aren’t seeking jobs and are staying home with children as daycare is difficult to find.

In Island County, the leisure and hospitality industry lost 150 jobs from November to December.

Year over year, 260 jobs were lost, which is 10.5 percent.

The education and health care services category lost 7.9 jobs.

The category includes primary care providers, dentists, physical therapists and more.

Vance-Sherman pointed out that elective medical procedures weren’t allowed during the earlier days of the pandemic and many people have put off going to the dentist.

In contrast, professional and business services added 190 jobs, which is a 14.6 percent increase.

That category consists of businesses that rely on other businesses, or “everything from architects to janitors,” Vance-Sherman said.

The pace of recovery, she predicted, will depend on how quickly people get vaccinated and get back to being comfortable spending time in public.

“I do think we have a long road ahead of us,” she said.