Pacific County unemployment nears pre-pandemic levels | South County News

OLYMPIA — Pacific County experienced another positive monthly jobs report last week, nearly returning to pre-pandemic unemployment levels a year after the county — and the country — suffered through one of the worst economic crises in its history.

According to the latest report from the Washington State Employment Security Department, the county’s unemployment rate in March stood at 8.2%, down from 8.9 in February. The rate is similar to where it has been in March in recent years; it was 7.6% in 2018, 8.4% in 2019 and 8% in 2020 — although it likely would have been much lower last year if not for being in the early stages of the pandemic.

The preliminary data pegs the total number of employed people in Pacific County at 7,917, the most raw number of people employed in March of a year since 2009. More people were employed in the private sector — 4,350 — in the county this March than in any other March since 2000 — the furthest back the data goes.

And in what can only be seen as a bullish sign for the Long Beach Peninsula’s upcoming summer tourism season, a projected 1,180 people were working in the county’s leisure and hospitality industry. More people were employed in the industry last month than in any March since the turn of the century, beating out the closest month — March 2005 — by a staggering 25.5%. The 1,180 people working in the industry this March is tied for sixth overall — out of 255 months — since 2000.

Retail jobs were also at their 21st century peak in March, with an estimated 680 people working in the industry in Pacific County — just ahead of March 2000’s 660 jobs. The 490 jobs in construction, logging and mining were also at highs in the millennium, as were the 800 jobs in trade, transportation and utilities.

With people still largely hesitant about flying amidst the pandemic, Jim Vleming, regional economist with the ESD, expects that Pacific County is well-positioned as a coastal county and vacation destination to make even further gains in the leisure and retail industries this summer and beyond.

“I think it’s going to be a pretty volatile spring and summer with leisure and hospitality [jobs] coming back pretty quickly, depending on if there are any rollbacks or anything,” Vleming said. “Certainly the ceiling is pretty high for where we’re going to go with leisure come this summer in a lot of the coastal counties.”

With tourism humming along at a breakneck pace, Vleming said a growing issue for some employers in the state and throughout the country is finding enough workers to hire to keep up with demand. On the peninsula, some dining establishments have recently announced that they will be closing for one or more days a week in order to give staff time off from the constant summer-like rush they’re seeing on a daily basis.

“I think [trying to hire enough employees to keep up with demand] is probably going to drive up some wages, and businesses are going to have to pay out a little bit more money to attract the workers,” Vleming said.

On the other end of the spectrum, the 1,760 government jobs — a variety of municipal, county, state and federal workers — last month was the worst March on record in the century since 2000, when 1,670 people worked in the public sector. Education and health services jobs, as well as manufacturing jobs, saw less pronounced growth compared to recent years.

As it did in February, Pacific County had the fourth-highest unemployment rate in the state in March, better than just Grays Harbor (8.8%), Pend Oreille (9.2%) and Ferry (9.8%) counties. Neighboring Wahkiakum County had a 7.4% unemployment rate, and the statewide unemployment rate ticked down from 5.6% to 5.4%.

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