Job numbers show county rebounding

Although the pandemic has hurt the local economy, unemployment numbers are gradually improving.

Eight months into the coronavirus pandemic, Island County’s economy is showing signs of healing.

Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional labor economist for the state, said several newly released economic indicators of employment in October point to good news, but the situation is still far from what has been normal in recent years.

“We’re seeing some gradual improvements, but we’re not out of the woods yet,” she said.

“We’re still seeing a really challenging economy.”

The new restrictions imposed by the governor may be a challenge to recovery, with the number of new weekly unemployment claims in the county jumping during the Thanksgiving holiday week.

The preliminary unemployment rate for Island County in October is 5.9 percent, which was down from 8 percent in September. While that’s a big improvement, 5.9 percent is still relatively high; the last time the October unemployment rate was that high was in 2015, Vance-Sherman said.

“At the moment it’s looking good,” she said, “but not as good as we’re accustomed to.”

Island County’s preliminary unemployment rate for October was slightly above the state’s average rate of 5.6 percent. The rate in Snohomish County was 5.2 percent and Skagit’s rate was 6.6 percent.

The unemployment rate is based on a complex algorithm, she explained, that will be revised multiple times. A better gauge of the economy, she said, is payroll employment.

In Island County, the number of jobs was down by 60 in October compared to September. The biggest decrease was in construction jobs, which lost 110 jobs. Much, if not all, of that may be seasonal, Vance-Sherman said.

Professional or business services saw an increase of 90 jobs from September to October. This category of jobs — including attorneys, financial advisers, informational technologists and insurance agents — suffered the least, Vance Sherman said.

“A lot of it has to do with what kind of jobs can be done remotely,” she said.

Year over year, Island County lost 450 jobs in October, which is a 2.6 percent decrease. The state saw a 5 percent decrease in that same period and Skagit lost 7.7 percent of jobs.

“Relatively speaking, Island County has held pretty steady,” she said.

There’s a “really sharp distinction,” she said, between types of employment year over year. The biggest losses were in government, which decreased by 310 jobs, and education and health services, which was down by 240.

Another economic indicator is the number of new unemployment claims.

In the three months prior to November, the number of new claims in the county averaged about 110 a week.

In the week of Nov. 8-14, there were 112 new claims in the county.

Last week, which was after the governor announced new restrictions, the number jumped to 262 claims. Vance-Sherman said it’s a pattern that economists have seen across the state.

In the same week in 2019, by comparison, only 42 new claims were filed.

While the increase is not a good sign, it dwarfs the number of new claims early in the pandemic. In the week beginning March 29, 1,584 new claims were filed in Island County, the economist indicated.

The jobs that have been hit the hardest in the county are manufacturing, construction, health care, accommodations and food services and retail trade.

“It’s showing up everywhere,” she said. “Just about everybody has been affected.”