EVERETT — Snohomish County’s unemployment rate soared to a record 20.2% in April, almost double the mark set during the Great Recession a decade ago.
It also was the highest jobless rate of any county in the state, according to figures released by the Employment Security Department.
Grays Harbor and Skagit counties recorded the next-highest unemployment levels, of 19.4% and 19.1%, respectively. King County stood at 14.9% and Pierce County at 18.2%. The final numbers could change slightly when they are adjusted for predictable seasonal variation.
Statewide, unemployment surged to 15.4% last month as employers shed 527,000 jobs — forced to cut back or shut down as part of the state’s battle against the spread of coronavirus.
Of the total, 91,383 were Snohomish County residents, according to state data.
Across the state, the top sectors reporting one-month job losses in April were construction, leisure and hospitality, and retail trade. Each was swiftly affected by the stay-home order issued March 23 by Gov. Jay Inslee, which required closure of non-essential services and businesses. The order is in effect through May 31, though it could be extended.
Manufacturing, which includes the aerospace sector, suffered the fourth-worst impact.
“As you know, the aerospace industry has faced a number of challenges over the past year,” said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional labor economist with the Employment Security Department. “Most recently, the drop in current and projected demand for air travel as a result of the pandemic has softened demand for aircraft, and hits home in Snohomish County. This impact extends throughout the supply chain.”
Vance-Sherman said the county’s jobless rate could remain above 20% in May because the gradual reopening of the economy is just beginning.
April’s report comes a year after Snohomish County recorded some of its lowest unemployment rates ever.
It had a seasonally adjusted rate around 4% at the beginning of 2019 and, in April last year, a mere 2.5%. Snohomish County’s previous unemployment high was 11.2% in January and February of 2010, amid the Great Recession.
Snohomish County Council Chairman Nate Nehring said Tuesday that the latest numbers “demonstrate the real impact that the COVID-19 shutdown is having on our local economy and the lives of our residents.”
“I believe there are ways we can address both public health and economic concerns by allowing small businesses to reopen with health and safety precautions, just as large retailers and others have been allowed to do this entire time,” Nehring said. “I have and will continue to urge Gov. Inslee to allow for these businesses to safely reopen in order to provide relief to the businesses, workers, and families whose livelihoods are being devastated.”
Earlier this month, Inslee laid out a four-phase plan for fully reopening the state. At the time, he said the entire state could move to Phase 2 as early as June 1.
Since then, the state has given 21 counties permission to move to the next phase because each had few or no new cases during a two-week period and had the ability to respond to any outbreaks, including capacity for treatment in hospitals.
In that second stage, many businesses, including real estate firms, hair and nail salons, barbers and pet groomers, can reopen. Restaurants are allowed to operate at less than 50% capacity, and retailers can conduct in-store sales.
Snohomish County is still in Phase 1 and is not eligible to advance yet because of the number of new COVID-19 cases each day. Under a target set by the Department of Health, the county would need 82 or fewer COVID-19 cases every two weeks — roughly six cases per day.
From May 10-23, the county reported 240 new cases, according to Snohomish Health District health officer Dr. Chris Spitters.
On Tuesday, two top officials of the Inslee administration said the criteria for allowing Snohomish and other large counties to move into the next phase has not been decided, leaving open the possibility it could happen next week.
State Secretary of Health John Weisman said officials have been reviewing the situation in each county and to “expect something this week” from the governor on what qualifications those Phase 1 counties might need to move to Phase 2.
David Postman, Inslee’s chief of staff, said the governor won’t be swayed by how many appeals are received from civic leaders in counties seeking to get in Phase 2.
Mayors of several Snohomish County cities have written the governor twice in recent weeks, urging him to relax the restrictions on social distancing, which they say have hamstrung their communities.
“Eagerness doesn’t tip the scales. The number of emails in my inbox doesn’t tip the scales,” Postman said. “We keep saying it, and it’s true, it’s data driven.”
Herald writer Janice Podsada contributed to this report.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.