Harbor jobless remains second highest in the state

Unemployment in Grays Harbor County edged up slightly in August despite the reopening of Hoquiam Plywood and potential job gains from the restart of Harbor Paper.

Despite some job losses in service-providing work and government positions, there were 100 more private, non-farm jobs added in the county over the past month, according to the latest county-by-county unemployment reports issued Tuesday by the state Employment Security Department.

Overall, the statistics show Grays Harbor continues to have the second-highest unemployment rate in the state at 12.8 percent, up from 12.1 percent in July after the numbers were adjusted from last month’s initial report. Lewis County also came in tied with Grays Harbor at 12.8 percent.

Ferry County in Eastern Washington has the highest unemployment rate at 13.3 percent for the second consecutive month. Unemployment in Pacific County also edged up in August to 11 percent, up from an adjusted 10.5 percent for July.

The statewide unemployment rate (not seasonally adjusted) has remained fairly stable at 8.5 percent from July (8.4 percent) through August. King County’s unemployment rate continues to drop in the Puget Sound area, from 7.8 percent in July to 7.6 percent in August.

Employment Security’s labor area summary of Grays Harbor shows were 1,120 fewer non-farm industry jobs in the county this August (21,440 jobs) compared to August 2011 (22,560 jobs). There also were 180 fewer jobs in the same category from July to August of this year.

The biggest job losses have mostly come in the service-providing categories (240 fewer jobs from July to August) and in government jobs, including state and local governments and education (280 fewer jobs, even with 10 more federal jobs for the month).

Pacific County also saw some month-to-month job losses in manufacturing (60 fewer jobs), government jobs (30 fewer) and service-providing jobs (10 fewer).

The employment picture locally is expected to continue to improve when Harbor Paper reaches full employment next month and a number of local transportation projects get under way.

According to a long-range unemployment rate chart, Grays Harbor County reached a high of 15.7 percent unemployment in January and February 2010. This year’s highest Grays Harbor unemployment rate was in March (14.1 percent). Unemployment in the county last August was 13.1 percent. Greater Grays Harbor Inc.

CEO Tim Gibbs recently appeared before the Port of Grays Harbor and the Hoquiam City Council to report that both Harbor Paper and Hoquiam Plywood had begun moving toward full employment. Since the plywood mill reopened, Gibbs said 84 people had been hired there, and Harbor Paper announced last week it is up to 130 employees with plans for a total production crew of about 150.

Jim Vleming, a regional labor economist for Employment Security, noted numbers for September should present a more optimistic picture for the Harbor’s labor force.

“With Harbor Paper and a couple other things coming on line, those don’t show up in the August numbers yet,” he said.

The county remains about 5 percent below last year’s number of non-farm jobs, Vleming said.

“It’s really hard to get any momentum when you are dealing with 50 jobs here, or 60 jobs there,” he said. “It’s going to be a slow march back, that’s for sure.”

Winter also tends to be a slower time for job creation, Vleming noted, but some of the government jobs might come back.

“A lot of school districts have their non-certified personnel that they cut loose in July, and most of those are state and local education losses,” he said.