The state’s unemployment rate continues to drop, but rural areas continue to grapple with often double-digit unemployment.
All of the Olympic Peninsula and all of Southwest Washington, except for Clark County, is dealing with unemployment exceeding 10 percent. In Eastern Washington, unemployment is also often higher than the state’s seasonally adjusted rate of 8.3 percent.
Grays Harbor’s unemployment rate rose to 14.2 percent in March, remaining the second highest in the state. That’s an increase of .3 percent from February’s revised numbers and continues the uptick that the Harbor has experienced in recent months.
Pacific County’s unemployment rate increased from 12.7 percent in February to 13.6 percent.
Ferry County remains first, now with 15 percent, Grays Harbor is still second at 14.2 percent and Lewis County is third with 14.1 percent.
Grays Harbor had been the second highest in the state in February, tied with Lewis County.
As a comparison, King County has unemployment of 7.1 percent and Thurston County has unemployment of 8.4 percent.
A regional economist didn’t return messages seeking comment on Tuesday. However, economists had previously predicted that spring could bring a boost to the construction industry and there are promising projections for a healthy ocean salmon and sport-fishing season. Also, Grays Harbor Paper LLC recently announced a buyer — although that will take several months before any hiring would likely be seen. It’ll take two months at least to go through the court system for approval, a court receiver said.
Hoquiam Plywood, which also has a new buyer, could help bring the numbers lower. Plus, there’s the new PetSense retail outlet and a planned Goodwill store in Aberdeen.
But, on the other side of the coin, Grays Harbor Community Hospital recently announced layoffs and government hiring is stagnant as just about every city and the county are dealing with reduced revenues.
Plus, even if unemployment drops, it may just be a sign that unemployment benefits are running out for hundreds of local residents.
Even though rural counties are still struggling, urban counties are showing improvement and are driving the unemployment rate down. The result means the federal government is stripping away the state’s rights to offer extensions to unemployment benefits.
As of April 21, the state will no longer offer a “tier 4” unemployment — which was the last-ditch benefits package offered and carried the full benefits out to 99 weeks. The maximum offered is now 73 weeks. An estimated 12,500 unemployed workers lost their benefits immediately, according to an Employment Security estimate. Over the next two months, another 11,000 workers will lose their benefits, and by the end of the year, yet another 40,000 workers will lose their benefits, according to an Employment Security press release.
Currently, about 175,000 people are claiming either regular, emergency or extended benefits each week, Employment Security states. To date, about 76,000 Washington residents have claimed all of their available unemployment benefits.