A man sweeps a parking lot in north Everett. (Sue Misao / Herald file)

A man sweeps a parking lot in north Everett. (Sue Misao / Herald file)

State sees historic monthly drop in unemployment rate but…

Even with a 5.3% decrease in rate of unemployment, the jobless mark is still at 9.8%.

EVERETT — Washington’s jobless rate dropped by a record 5.3% in the month of June, according to the state Employment Security Department. The decrease to 9.8% from a 15.1% mark in May was the biggest month-to-month reduction since at least 1990.

Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional labor economist for the agency covering Northwest Washington, said that while the one-month decline was remarkable, the unemployment rate is still very high. For perspective, she said the highest the mark reached during the 2008 Great Recession was 10.4%.

“I expect to see a bounce-back of some jobs, but the rest of the recovery will not likely be as swift as what we saw in June,” Vance-Sherman said in an email.

A preliminary estimate from the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that the state gained 71,000 jobs last month and for the first time in 2020, Washington’s monthly unemployment was less than the national rate of 11.1%.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to batter Washington, the reopening of counties across the state and Gov. Jay Inslee’s recent decision to pause the four-tiered “Safe Start” reopening plan until at least July 28 continues to play a role in the unemployment rate.

“Opening the economy in phases and with clear guidance will continue to create a way to bring some jobs back and will chip away at the unemployment rate,” Vance-Sherman said. “The decision to pause progression of phased opening will likely lead to a slower decline of the unemployment rate in the short term relative to what we might see in an expedited opening, but the concern lies in what happens with the pandemic in later months.”

She emphasized that our economy is based on person-to-person interactions, so while people are being conservative with their activities because of higher risks, they are also altering their economic activity.

“We have all been creating different habits during our time at home, and our new habits will change the economic landscape as we reopen,” she said.

Since June of 2019, authorities estimate the state has seen a loss of more than 310,000 jobs, including a projected 135,800 jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry and 46,700 in government.

According to the state, 565,800 people received unemployment benefits in June, a nearly 150,000 person reduction in the last month.

“It is also important to keep in mind that this is not a typical recession,” Vance-Sherman said. “Some jobs will bounce back, unchanged from the sudden drop. Some jobs will be changed in terms of how work is done, and some jobs will simply not return as some businesses will not survive the tumult.”

Employment data by county for the month of June will be released on July 21. In May, Snohomish County’s jobless mark was 16.2% and 71,000 people remained unemployed.

Additionally, preliminary estimates of 52,500 gained jobs in May were revised to an increase of 146,000 jobs. Vance-Sherman said because of the economy’s unprecedented swings in the past few months, the revisions are not a major surprise and such dramatic fluctuations should be expected moving forward.

As operational strategies of employers change, Vance-Sherman said a greater degree of uncertainty is introduced within the data. Every month, additional information is gathered and the numbers are revised to improve the accuracy of the unemployment reports.

“Time offers clarity and yields better information,” she said.

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

Ian Davis-Leonard reports on working class issues through Report for America, a national service program that places emerging journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. To support Ian’s work at The Daily Herald with a tax-deductible donation, go to https://www.heraldnet.com/support/.

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