WENATCHEE — Losing 2,400 jobs between last February and this February doesn’t sound like good news.
It’s all about perspective, says Don Meseck, a state economist. The 2,400 fewer jobs noted in the February numbers released last week mean Chelan and Douglas counties are up 600 jobs from the 3,000 average annual job loss for all of 2020. In January’s month-over-month comparison of numbers from the state Employment Security Department, the region was down 3,200 jobs.
“Relatively speaking, if the estimates are true, it means we’re starting to improve. It’s unlikely we’ll have a dramatic turnaround in March or April, but it’s heading in the right direction,” Meseck said.
Overall, the February numbers for the Wenatchee Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Chelan and Douglas counties, shows the pandemic continues to hit industries hard across the board.
“The local nonfarm market has contracted in each of the past 11 months, from April 2020 through February 2021,” Meseck said. “However, this February’s minus-5.4% loss-rate was the lowest since the start of COVID-19-related layoffs last April.”
Some industry sectors are seeing not only a slowdown in job losses, but some job gains.
Retail trade added 100 jobs in February 2021 compared to February 2020, as did the “education and health services” category, which includes businesses like dentists, chiropractors and doctor’s offices, vocational rehabilitation, emergency relief services and child daycare services.
Wenatchee’s leisure and hospitality industry — primarily hotels, eating and drinking places and amusement and recreation businesses — was down 1,400 jobs this February compared to last February, a 21.9% drop. It remains the region’s hardest-hit industry, job-wise, but the relatively high number is a big improvement over the 44.8% loss in jobs that hit in April 2020.
The industry numbers statewide follow the same trend.
Local government, which includes public schools, dropped about 700 jobs in the Wenatchee region this February compared to last February.
That sector had been growing by 100-plus jobs a year from 2017 through 2019. As students are cleared to return to classrooms full-time, those jobs are likely to bump back up.
Other sectors are anticipating a similar trend. As vaccines take effect and COVID-19 restrictions are eased, jobs are likely to return. They might not all be the same jobs, though.
The long-term effects of internet shopping, for instance, might change how brick and mortar retailers operate, Meseck said.
Other industries might change how business is conducted — with more employees in some professions working from home, which could have an impact on some job numbers. That’s not an option for all sectors.
The other big statistic of note is the unemployment rate — sitting at 7.2% for February, up from 6.6% in February 2020 and a bump from January’s revised rate of 7%.
“It’s a mix of good and bad news,” Meseck said. “Monthly rates have been higher since COVID-19, from April through February, but the difference isn’t as great as it has been. To sum up the two points, if you look at nonfarm loss rates, they are less now than they were at the start of COVID. We are still losing jobs, but at a declining rate. And unemployment rates are higher, but the gap is closing. We’ll see what happens next month.”