Moses Lake, WA 98837, USA

Unemployment creeps up in north central Washington

Weather may have had positive, negative impacts

For The Basin Business Journal

YAKIMA — Unemployment rates in central Washington rose, or stayed flat, during the late winter and early spring. The latest available data from the Washington Department of Employment Security shows that unemployment rose in Grant County in February, year over year, but remained unchanged in Okanogan County.

Unemployment rose year over year in Yakima, Chelan and Douglas counties in March.

While unemployment is going up slightly, it’s starting from some of the lowest unemployment rates in recent memory. In Grant County average annual unemployment was 6.2 percent in 2018, “the lowest since electronic records were implemented (by Department of Employment Security) in 1990,” wrote Don Meseck, the department’s regional labor economist. Okanogan County’s 2018 unemployment rate was 6.4 percent, also the lowest since 1990.

Average unemployment rate for 2018 was 4.8 in Chelan and Douglas counties, and 6.3 percent in Yakima County. In all cases those are historically low rates, Meseck said.

The February 2019 unemployment rate was 9.4 percent in Grant County, down from 9.7 percent in January, but up from 8.7 percent in February 2018. Okanogan County’s February unemployment was 9.5 percent, unchanged from February 2018 and down from 10 percent in January 2019.

In Chelan and Douglas counties the March unemployment rate is 6.6 percent, up from 6 percent in March 2018, but down from 7 percent in February 2019. Unemployment “rates have crept upwards in the past four months,” Meseck wrote. “Although 6.6 percent is a relatively low unemployment rate for the month of March in the Wenatchee (area), this over-the-year rise in the rate bears watching.”

Yakima County’s March unemployment rate was 9.2 percent, up from 7.4 percent in March 2018, but down from 9.9 percent in February 2019. “Heavy late-winter snowfalls caused layoffs in February and March 2019, especially in the local agricultural and construction industries.”

Durable goods manufacturing took a hit in Grant County in February, losing 190 jobs between the Februarys. Manufacturing news was a little better in Okanogan County, where it gained 40 jobs between the Februarys.

The leisure and hospitality sector showed an 11.3 percent increase in employment year-over-year in the Wenatchee area. However, “it is likely that a portion of this recent upturn was due to the large, late-winter snowfall and increased winter recreational activities in the Wenatchee (area).”
Yakima County’s “private health care and social assistance employment has increased for 39 months,” Meseck wrote. “Between the Marches of 2018 and 2019, this industry grew from 16,500 jobs to 17,000.”

Agriculture is an important economic sector in the region. In Grant County “in 2017 agricultural employment accounted for 23.9 percent of total covered employment,” Meseck wrote. (That’s the last year for which data is available.) In Okanogan County, ag employment accounted for 30.2 percent of total covered employment in 2017.

Agriculture accounted for 26.6 percent of covered employment in Yakima County in 2017, and 23.7 percent of 2017 employment in Chelan County. Agriculture made up 18.4 percent of total covered payroll in 2017 in Douglas County.