County unemployment rate rises to 6.9% in February

Spokane County’s nonseasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased slightly to 6.9% in February, primarily because of seasonal layoffs in construction and outdoor industries, according to the Washington state Employment Security Department.

The county added 3,400 nonfarm jobs and 3,500 private sector jobs from January to February, the department reported Wednesday.

The health services sector had the greatest number of job gains, adding 1,200 jobs in February as additional doctors’ offices, dentists and optometrists reopened after temporarily shutting down to prevent the spread of COVID-19, said Doug Tweedy, a regional economist for the ESD.

Tweedy said there’s a “glimmer of hope” in the leisure and hospitality industry as it added 1,300 jobs in February compared to the month before. But the sector is still 6,600 jobs below the number of leisure and hospitality positions in February 2020, he said.

The county’s unemployment rate was 6.7% in January and 6% in February 2020.

The county has 14,000 fewer jobs than in February 2020, Tweedy said.

The manufacturing and retail trade sectors, which were among the industries hardest hit by the pandemic, are down about 4,500 combined jobs compared with the same time last year, he said.

The county’s employment was strong in February 2020, but as the pandemic continued through the year, the county saw job declines in several cycles as businesses were forced to shut down or restrict capacity, Tweedy said.

“So, in going through the pandemic, we are still 14,000 jobs below what we were last year at this time, and the industries that were hit hardest during the pandemic still haven’t regained those jobs,” he said.

New unemployment claims continue to decline in the county, and that’s a positive sign for economic recovery, Tweedy said.

“We do expect the unemployment rate to decrease going forward,” he said.

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