Peninsula jobless rate drops for June

Official: Future rebound uncertain

Unemployment fell by more than 5 percentage points on the North Olympic Peninsula last month, state officials said.

Clallam County unemployment dropped from a near-record 16.5 percent in May to a preliminary 10.9 percent in June, the state Employment Security Department reported Tuesday.

Jefferson County unemployment fell from a revised 15.9 percent in May to a preliminary 10.6 percent last month, state officials said.

Both counties saw record unemployment in April — 18.8 percent in Clallam County and 17.4 percent in Jefferson County — when COVID-19 restrictions were in full effect, Employment Security said.

Agency spokesman Jim Vleming said the June numbers reflect the gradual reopening of North Olympic Peninsula businesses.

“It wasn’t a real great rebound, but it was better than it was in April, that’s for sure,” Vleming said in a Tuesday interview.

Many businesses on the North Olympic Peninsula remain closed or are operating at a reduced capacity for COVID-19 precautions.

“Where we go from here is anybody’s guess,” Vleming said.

“It’s definitely going to be seeing where schools are, and seeing what’s going to happen as far as the reopening part-two goes.”

Clallam and Jefferson county are each in Phase 2 of the state’s four-phase reopening plan. Gov. Jay Inslee has put a hold on counties moving to broader reopening because of high virus transmission statewide.

“My crystal ball is getting kind of foggy at this point, knowing which end us up,” Vleming said.

“With the governor’s new orders, and kind of the threat of closing things down again, it’s hard getting a read on it.”

Clallam and Jefferson counties each had significant declines in the size of their labor forces in June — 1,479 for Clallam County and 730 for Jefferson County.

Clallam County had 26,129 employed residents and 3,197 seeking work in June. There were 5,095 job-seekers in Clallam County in May.

Jefferson County had 11,551 working citizens and 1,370 seeking work last month. There were 2,171 job-seekers in Jefferson County in May.

A person is counted as unemployed if he or she is able to work and has sought work in the past month.

Meanwhile, state employers added 71,000 jobs in June as Washington’s jobless rate fell from 15.1 percent in May to 9.8 percent last month.

“The gain in non-farm payroll employment coupled with the revision to May’s job gains are a welcome surprise and another step in the right direction,” said Paul Turek, Employment Security economist, in a prepared statement.

“That said, the road ahead looks to be bumpy as the virus continues to spread, creating a less predictable situation for the economy reopening.”

Clallam County unemployment was 6.5 percent in June 2019. Jefferson County’s jobless rate was 6.2 percent one year ago.

Employment Security has been keeping unemployment statistics for counties since 1990.

Leisure and hospitality and construction trades drove the improvements in the North Olympic Peninsula jobless numbers in June, Vleming said.

“I know a lot of restaurants and whatnot and leisure and hospitality operations were kind of on the knife’s edge as far as profit margins go anyway,” Vleming said in a telephone interview.

“I think a lot of them are going to be making decisions of how they’re going to reopen and what that reopening is going to look like.

“I think we’re still getting a handle on the volume they’re expecting,” he added.

“Another month of seeing where we are might be beneficial, so we’ll see.”

Whitman County had the lowest unemployment in the state at 6.1 percent last month, followed by neighboring Asotin (6.2 percent) and Adams (6.4 percent) counties.

Grays Harbor and Ferry counties tied for the highest unemployment at 12.4 percent, Employment Security said.

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

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