Washington’s unemployment rate rose in December

After a few months of falling unemployment rates, the state’s numbers rose in December.

New COVID-19 restrictions once again hit some of Washington’s industry sectors hard as the unemployment rate increased from a revised 5.7 percent in November to 7.1 percent in December, according to the Employment Security Department.

The state economy lost 9,900 jobs in December, according to the ESD, with the biggest hits coming in the leisure & hospitality sector. Between November and December, the number of unemployed increased from 219,200 to 272,500. The Puget Sound region had an increase from 77,200 to 122,200.

‘The renewed efforts taken to contain the spread of COVID deeply impacted industries that provide high-contact services,” said Paul Turek, an ESD economist. “Nowhere is that more apparent than in leisure and hospitality. Beyond that, employment in other industries is mostly holding up better.”

In December, six industries contracted: leisure and hospitality (down 20,600 jobs); education and health services (down 2,500); manufacturing (down 1,700); other services (down 1,200 jobs); wholesale trade (down 500); and mining and logging (down 100).

The professional & business services and retail trade sectors saw by far the highest expansion, adding 8,900 and 4,800 jobs respectively.

However, unemployment claims have decreased in the new year after a rough start. During the week of Jan. 10-16, initial unemployment claims decreased by 29.2 percent down to 19,212. There were a total of 468,801 claims for all unemployment benefit categories, down 9.1 percent from the prior week. In Kitsap County, initial claims fell from 764 to 528.

Initial claims are still elevated, sitting 114 percent above the same week in 2019.

A reduction in seasonal layoffs in some industries assisted in decreasing claims numbers.

The construction industry saw a decrease of 838 initial claims from the 3,199 claims reported the prior week. The administrative and support industry also saw a drop of 526 initial claims. Retail trade (down 436 claims); educatioanl services (down 308 claims) and health care and social assistance (down 307 claims) all saw significant decreases in initial claims.

The ESD paid a total of $320 million to 336,817 individual unemployment claims in the week ending Jan. 16. Since the pandemic began 10 months ago, ESD has paid more than $13.8 billion in benefits.