Record unemployment on North Olympic Peninsula

Clallam up to 18.9%; Jefferson at 17.3% in April

North Olympic Peninsula unemployment soared to historical highs in April as Clallam and Jefferson employers shed 2,850 nonfarm jobs amid the COVID-19 pandemic precautions, state officials said.

Clallam County unemployment went from a revised 5.9 percent in March to a preliminary 18.9 percent in April, the state Employment Security Department said Tuesday.

Jefferson County’s jobless rate shot from a revised 5.3 percent in March to a preliminary 17.3 percent last month, state officials said.

The April unemployment rates were the highest for either Clallam or Jefferson County since Employment Security began keeping unemployment statistics for counties in 1990.

“It’s kind of brutal out there,” said Jim Vleming, regional economist with Employment Security.

“Unprecedented is an overused term we’ve used for this situation, but definitely that’s what we’re dealing with.”

The April jobs report numbers confirm expectations based on the record number of people who have filed for unemployment benefits since March 7, Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine said in a press release.

“While these numbers are dramatic, it is in alignment with what we expected as the state has taken the public health crisis seriously and is abiding by the ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy’ order,” she said.

“These losses are likely to continue into May, with a shift coming the other direction as our economy gradually re-opens,” LeVine added.

Clallam County employers cut 2,130 jobs in April as nonfarm employment decreased from 23,150 in March to 21,020 last month, Vleming said.

Clallam County had 5,831 job seekers in April, up from 1,668 in March.

The 18.9 percent unemployment rate in Clallam County eclipsed the previous 30-year high of 13.1 percent set in January 2010. The county had the fourth-highest April unemployment rate of the state’s 39 counties.

Jefferson County employers shed 720 jobs in April as nonfarm employment dipped from 9,310 in March to 8,590 in April, Employment Security said.

Jefferson County had 2,432 job seekers in April, up from 683 in March.

The 17.3 unemployment rate in Jefferson County exceeded the previous 30-year high of 12.0 percent set in February 2010.

“We definitely lost jobs in a lot of sectors, but in the nonfarm employment, it wasn’t a huge decline compared to other areas,” Vleming said in a Tuesday interview.

“Now, the unemployment rate is another story, and I see that kind of staying fairly high, depending on what reopens and what doesn’t reopen.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see it kind of either remain where it is or go a little bit higher.”

Jefferson County has moved into Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Safe Start” plan for reopening the economy.

Clallam County’s Board of Health and three commissioners will consider an amended Phase 2 variance application in special meetings today.

“As counties slowly reopen, it will be a different story,” Vleming said of the unemployment rates.

“But how fast it’s going to decline is anybody’s guess.”

Clallam and Jefferson counties each saw job losses across all sectors in April.

Clallam County lost 750 mining, logging and construction jobs, 600 jobs in leisure and hospitality, and 240 government jobs in April, Employment Security said.

Jefferson County shed 400 jobs in mining, logging and constriction, 180 government jobs, and 30 leisure and hospitality positions, Employment Security said.

“It’s pretty grim totals all around,” Vleming said.

Meanwhile, the statewide unemployment rate jumped from 5.1 percent in March to 15.4 percent in April, and national unemployment climbed from 4.4 percent to 14.7 percent, Employment Security said.

The state economy shed 527,000 jobs in April, according to the latest report.

Snohomish County had the highest unemployment at 20.2 percent, followed by Grays Harbor (19.4 percent) and Skagit (19.1 percent) counties.

Whitman County’s unemployment had the state’s lowest jobless rate at 6.6 percent, followed by Adams (8.5 percent) and Asotin (8.7 percent) counties.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

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