Amid pandemic, 2020 was an historic year for unemployment

After record joblessness last April, Snohomish County has a long road back to a pre-pandemic economy.

EVERETT — At the beginning of 2020, Snohomish County was nearing record-low unemployment. For 12 months, the mark had been below 3.5%. By February, it was at 2.8%.

The economy was thriving and showed little sign of letting up.

What a difference a few months — and a global pandemic — can make.

By April, Snohomish County’s jobless mark had soared to 19.2%, well above the state rate of 16.3% and the national peak of 14.7%.

The peaks and valleys of unemployment in 2020 are only comparable to historic financial crises, according to state economist Anneliese Vance-Sherman.

“Our local records don’t go back to the Great Depression, but when we look nationally, that is the most recent time in history when we’ve had unemployment rates this high,” she said.

In the months since April’s high point, the county has returned to a more standard rate. November unemployment came in at 4.8%, below the statewide unemployment rate of 6% and third-lowest in the state, behind only King and Asotin counties, according to data from the state Employment Security Department.

Still, more than 20,700 Snohomish County residents remain unemployed. Only King and Pierce counties have more jobless workers.

Total employment in the county is down 24,500 jobs over the year. That’s a notable 8.2% reduction compared to the statewide decrease of 4.9% and King County’s reduction of 5.5%.

“Most places around the state were down over the year. Snohomish County is down a bit more than many places,” Vance-Sherman said. “When we look at which industries are declining, I believe it is all of them.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates more than 170,000 jobs were lost in Washington this year, including 71,200 from the leisure and hospitality sector, 43,100 government jobs and another 25,500 from manufacturing.

Locally, 12.5% of manufacturing employment, 7,600 jobs, vanished in Snohomish County during the last year. Approximately 5,600 of those jobs were in the aerospace industry.

“Our deepest drop was in our largest sector,” Vance-Sherman said. “We still have a lot of eggs in one basket, manufacturing still makes up nearly 20% of all jobs in Snohomish County, so anything that happens to manufacturing, we feel it. It ripples through the local economy.”

Retail trade, the leisure and hospitality industry and local government also endured large job losses in Snohomish County over the past year.

Hindsight will be beneficial when analyzing unemployment in 2020. Vance-Sherman said she expects to see large data revisions for years to come as economists get a better understanding of the situation.

However, early analysis illustrates the setback.

Vance-Sherman said the lowest points of Snohomish County’s employment in 2020 were about equivalent to the number of workers in 2012. By November, employment rebounded the levels of 2014 or 2015, she said.

“From where we are right now, we still have five years to make up to get where we were when we started this year,” Vance-Sherman said. “I don’t anticipate a swift recovery, but at this point I think the worst is behind us.”

Ian Davis-Leonard: 425-339-3448; idavisleonard@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @IanDavisLeonard.

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