Peninsula jobless rates remain high

Clallam, Jefferson unemployment stays in double digits

North Olympic Peninsula unemployment dipped somewhat but remained historically high last month as the effects of COVID-19 precautions continued to plague the economies in Clallam and Jefferson counties, state officials said.

Clallam County unemployment was down from a record 18.8 percent in April to a preliminary 16.6 percent in May, the state Employment Security Department reported Tuesday.

Jefferson County unemployment was down from a record 17.4 percent in April to a preliminary 16.0 percent in May, the agency said.

Clallam County employers added 20 jobs in May and Jefferson County shed 140 jobs last month, Employment Security regional spokesman Jim Vleming said Wednesday.

“I don’t think we had a real heck of a lot of change over there,” Vleming said in a telephone interview.

Vleming predicted both counties would add service-providing jobs this summer as the tourist economy reopens.

“I think Clallam and Jefferson are going to probably be a little bit more of a destination-type situation for people that are getting out from the Puget Sound region,” Vleming said.

“So I think we’ll see a little bit more of a bounce in leisure and hospitality.”

Clallam and Jefferson counties are each in Phase 2 of the state’s four-phase Safe Start reopening plan.

Jefferson County plans to apply to enter Phase 3 next week, and the Clallam County Board of health will discuss a Phase 3 variance application Tuesday.

“As we go further into the phases, I think you’ll see the (job) numbers increase slightly,” Vleming said.

Clallam County had 25,764 employed residents in May and 5,117 seeking work. Its labor force shrank from 31,914 in April to 30,881 in May.

Jefferson County had 11,428 working citizens in May and 2,179 seeking work. Its labor force dropped from 14,043 in April to 13,607 in May.

The statewide unemployment rate dipped from a revised 16.3 percent in April to a preliminary 15.1 percent in May.

State employers shed 457,800 jobs from March to April during the height of COVID-19 restrictions and added 52,500 jobs in May, Employment Security said.

“While the unemployment rate in Washington fell in May, it remained historically high as the state continued to navigate the economic fallout from the COVID-19 crisis,” said Paul Turek, economist for the Employment Security Department.

“Over the past month, a small portion of the jobs lost during the first two months of the pandemic were recovered as the economy begins to reopen across the state.”

Unemployment was 4.4 percent in Washington one year ago.

Whitman County had the state’s lowest county unemployment rate for May at 7.7 percent, followed by Asotin (8.3 percent) and Lincoln (9.9 percent) counties.

Grays Harbor County had the highest jobless rate in May at 19.3 percent, followed by Pacific (16.9 percent) and Pierce (16.9 percent) counties.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected].

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