By The Chronicle staff

New data from the Employment Security Department (ESD) shows Lewis County’s most recent unemployment rate sitting lower than most of its neighbors at 6.8%, not seasonally adjusted. That’s down from 7.4% in December.

According to the ESD’s most recent report, which includes data from January, Thurston County sits at 6%, Pacific at 10.3%, Cowlitz at 7.2% and Grays Harbor at 9.5%.

Like the rest of the state, Lewis County recouped some jobs in January, but not as many as it lost in December.

“The new year is off to a better start as far as the labor market is concerned,” ESD economist Paul Turek said in a statement. “January’s employment gain only partially reverses last month’s decline, but as more vaccinations are given and business conditions improve, the labor market recovery should strengthen.”

Specifically, the state lost an estimated 5,400 jobs in December and only regained 4,400 in January.

Of those improvements, most were made in leisure and hospitality, with 4,800 total jobs gained. An estimated 4,700 jobs were recouped in education and health services, 1,600 in government, 800 in information, 500 in retail, 200 in wholesale and 100 in logging and mining.

Those gains were offset by industries that again saw jobs whittled away in January, including professional and business services, transportation, warehousing, financial activities, manufacturing and construction, according to the ESD.

Statewide, the unemployment rate dropped by 1.1% in January. Nationally, the dropoff was less significant, going from 6.7% to 6.3%. For comparison, in January of last year, national unemployment was at 3.5%.

Washington saw unemployment spike in April 2020, with Lewis County’s rate jumping to 17.7%, Thurston to 16.4%, Grays Harbor to 21%, Pacific to 19.6% and Cowlitz to 16.4%.

Despite the stark difference in this year’s numbers compared to those pre-pandemic, state lawmakers are expressing optimism about the state of Washington’s economy, especially as Phase 3 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan is set to relieve more restrictions on businesses later this month.

In a media availability Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, praised the “amazing resilience in our economy.”

“I’m optimistic that these businesses are going to be able to operate safely … and hopefully we can continue to see declining rates across the state and move toward more openings in a thoughtful and safe fashion. So I think we’re on the right track,” Braun told reporters, adding “while it’s not exactly on the schedule we have advocated for, at least it’s more progress, and I’m pleased with that.”

Lawmakers also expressed excitement at the state’s newly-reported revenue forecast, which increased by more than $1.9 billion for this biennium.

“Despite the strain on household budgets across the state, Washington’s economy is strong,” said Appropriations Committee ranking member Rep. Drew Stokesbary in a statement.