North Olympic Peninsula employers added nearly 600 jobs in August as Clallam and Jefferson County unemployment rates returned to the single digits, state officials said.
Clallam County unemployment fell from a revised 11.9 percent in July to a preliminary 9.6 percent in August, the state Employment Security Department reported Tuesday.
Jefferson County’s jobless rate dipped from a revised 10.9 percent in July to a preliminary 8.8 percent in August, Employment Security said.
Regional Economist Jim Vleming said the two counties have fared better than other rural areas during COVID-19.
“I think a lot of that has to do with the cabin fever that everybody else in the west side of the state has, and going and exploring Jefferson and Clallam County,” Vleming said in a Tuesday interview.
Clallam County added 610 non-farm jobs in August, including 350 government jobs and 140 in leisure and hospitality.
Despite the one-month gain in leisure and hospitality, Clallam County had lost 940 of the 3,160 jobs it had in that tourism-driven sector in August 2019.
“If it wasn’t for that loss, we’d be actually above where we were last year,” Vleming said.
“With the (Canadian) border closed and everything kind of shut down a little bit, it could be a heck of a lot worse.”
Clallam County had 27,764 working citizens in August and 2,937 seeking work. Its labor force reduced by 166 over the month.
“Clallam County’s in pretty good shape overall compared to a lot of the counties that have lost a lot more leisure and hospitality jobs and have lost a lot of construction jobs,” Vleming said.
“Clallam County seems to be fairly well positioned to deal with what’s going on right now, but things change by the day anymore.”
Jefferson County had 12,942 working residents in August and 1,250 seeking work. Its labor force shrank by 427 over the month, resulting in a lower unemployment rate despite a net loss of 20 non-farm jobs.
“The unemployment rate kind of jumps around a little bit this time of year,” Vleming said, referring to a federal residency adjustment and Jefferson County’s small sample size.
“The jobs within the county itself are not doing too bad.”
“The winter is the slow time of the year,” Vleming added.
“So I wouldn’t be surprised to see that over-the-month growth kind of extinguish a little bit as we head into fall and the winter.”
For a year-to-year comparison, Clallam County’s unemployment rate was 6.1 percent in August 2019, and Jefferson County unemployment was just 5.4 percent 13 months ago.
Unemployment hit a record 18.9 percent in Clallam County and a record 17.3 percent in Jefferson County at the height of COVID-19 restrictions in April.
Meanwhile, state employers added 19,800 jobs in August as the state’s unemployment rate fell from 10.2 percent to 8.5 percent.
“The swings in payroll employment have been sizable since March,” said Paul Turek, an Employment Security economist, in a monthly report.
“Although the jobs market continues to heal, August marks a slowdown from the initial hiring rebound from reopening.”
Asotin County had the lowest unemployment of the 39 counties at 5.8 percent, followed by Adams (6.2 percent) and Whitman (6.2 percent) counties.
Pend Oreille County had the highest unemployment at 11.5 percent, followed by Grays Harbor (11.2 percent) and Pacific (10.8 percent) counties, Employment Security said.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected].