Grays Harbor still leads state in unemployment

Grays Harbor County led the state in unemployment for the third consecutive month in June. But a manager with WorkSource Grays Harbor and Pacific Counties found a sliver of optimism.

Ron Schmidt, WorkSource co-manager, pointed out the total labor force on the Harbor remained relatively steady since May, possibly a sign people are feeling more optimistic and sticking it out in the area or continuing their search for work rather than giving up.

Grays Harbor’s unemployment rate had a slight dip from 12.2 percent May to 12.1 percent in June. Statewide, the preliminary rate was a seasonally adjusted 6.8 percent (7 percent without adjustment), up from May’s adjusted 6.6 percent.

Grays Harbor’s labor force was estimated at 27,950 in June, a drop of 10 workers from May.

“To me — it only went down by 10, it could have gone down by a larger number and it historically has,” Schmidt said.

Pacific County dropped from 8,420 to 8,360, although it reversed its downward trend in unemployment, spiking to 10.8 percent from 10.4 percent. Schmidt said the labor force has made these relatively small changes over a period of several months, even making small gains from April to May, rather than larger drops it had during worse periods of the recession.

“It looks almost cautiously self-sustaining. but we’ll find out what goes on in the month of July,” Schmidt said.

Regional Economist Jim Vleming agreed that although much of the data coming from June wasn’t encouraging, there was cause for cautious optimism regarding the labor force.

“That is a good indication, if you’re not seeing a mass exodus out of an area. They’re willing to give it a go,” he said. “People are there for a reason, and I think that’s part of the good news, but I think it’s just going to take time to build things back up.”

Part of the calculation of the labor force will include college students on summer break and recently graduated high school students, as well as non-certified school employees looking for summer work.

“That’s a typical thing that happens every year. A lot of our gains in construction and manufacturing, that’s seasonal as well,” Vleming said.

Grays Harbor County’s unemployment has hovered between 12 and 13 percent for most of the year, holding the top spot in the state for much of the year so far.

In June, it was followed again by Ferry County at 12 percent, Wahkiakum at 11.6, Lewis at 11.4 and Pacific rounding out the top five.

They were followed by Cowlitz at 10.6 percent, Stevens and Pend Oreille at 10.4 and Skamania and Columbia at 10.

“Grays Harbor County has always been higher than the state, for the most part,” Vleming explained.

Part of that goes back to the unpredictable logging and paper industries, and the county is still struggling to diversify.

“To turn it into something different, it doesn’t happen overnight,” he said. “Harbor Paper is kind of indicative of that, it is kind of hard to get those (companies) back.”

WorkSource recently advised Harbor Paper workers to look for other jobs. The mill ceased production in February, saying it was reorganizing management and hoped to restart. Workers have been in limbo ever since.

“I don’t see that coming back, I think that’s probably the last go on that place,” Vleming said. “It’s kind of a shame but that’s the way it is.”