Peninsula jobless rates deceptively low

North Olympic Peninsula unemployment rates were deceptively low in March because the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic had yet to appear in the data, state officials said.

Clallam County unemployment went from 7.4 percent in February to a preliminary 6.0 percent in March, the state Employment Security Department reported Tuesday.

Jefferson County’s jobless rate went from 5.7 percent in February to a preliminary 5.3 percent in March, the latest numbers said.

Statewide unemployment increased from 3.8 percent to 5.1 percent in March, Employment Security said in a monthly report.

“The impacts of COVID-19 may not be fully captured in the March report and are more likely to be evident in the April report,” said Paul Turek, economist for Employment Security.

“Although we have seen widespread closings of schools, restaurants, and theaters, these actions largely took effect starting the week of March 16th, after most workers would have been counted.

“As a result, even if some firms started laying off workers as early as the second week of March, many still would have worked or received pay for at least part of the payroll period including the 12th, and thus their loss of employment is not yet fully reflected in the March report,” Turek added.

According to the March estimates, Clallam County had 26,668 working residents and 1,694 seeking jobs last month.

Jefferson County had 12,248 employed and 684 who had sought work in the past four weeks.

Jim Vleming, Employment Security regional economist, said he expected a sharp rise in unemployment in both counties when the April estimates are released May 26.

“It will be a whole different animal next month,” Vleming said in a Tuesday interview.

“Right now, it just kind of looks like the calm before the storm since there is a lag in our data.”

Whitman County had the state’s lowest unemployment rate in March at 3.6 percent, followed by Asotin (3.7 percent) and San Juan (4.2 percent) counties.

Ferry County had the highest March unemployment at 12.8 percent, followed by Okanogan (8.0 percent) and Pend Oreille (8.0 percent) counties.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected].