Spokane County’s unemployment rate increased to a record-breaking 15.9% in April, surpassing the number of workers who lost jobs during the Great Recession, according to data released Tuesday from the Washington State Employment Security Department.
The county reported 40,619 out-of-work residents in April, which are the highest unemployment numbers since the state started tracking the data in 1990. In comparison, some 29,319 county residents were jobless in February 2010, which was the previous record unemployment rate at 12.1%, according to non-seasonally adjusted data from the department.
Half of the unemployed residents in the county in April were from four industries: health care, education, construction and manufacturing, said Doug Tweedy, regional economist for the state employment security department.
“All of these industries could rebound fairly quickly,” said Tweedy, who explained that the county has a broader base of employers compared to the Great Recession, which hit retail trade, leisure, hospitality and construction industries particularly hard.
But it’s uncertain just exactly how long it will take for the local job market to recover from the impact of COVID-19.
“The recovery was very long coming out of the recession,” said Grant Forsyth, chief economist for Avista Corp. “This recession is very different, in part, because it really caused this strange simultaneous shutdown across the country.”
A growing consensus among economists nationwide is that economic recovery is going to be “a bit longer than we originally had hoped” because of the depth of the recession and household conservatism brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, he said.
Once the statewide stay-at-home order is lifted, households may be cautious about returning to any venue – whether it’s a university, sporting event, or restaurant, Forsyth said.
Businesses will be also examining how quickly they can hire employees and how many hours to provide workers, dependent upon consumer behavior, Forsyth added.
Forsyth anticipates the health care sector will be the first industry to recover in the county because there’s still demand for workers.
“My sense is health care will come back. The conditions and rules may be different, but the demand is still there,” he said. “I’m definitely a bit more worried about public and private education – especially universities – and leisure and hospitality in terms of how they will come back.”
Universities may have challenges with how to run operations after the coronavirus pandemic. Parents might be more reluctant to send their kids back to school and those two factors could contribute to a slower rebound of education jobs, Forsyth said.
To understand the impact of more than 40,000 county residents losing their jobs, exactly a year ago, Spokane County had a 4.1% unemployment rate in April 2019.
As the local economy recovers, Tweedy said there is likely to be a long-term impact on how local businesses work, with a shift to teleworking and different staffing patterns.
“But also coming out of this, we’ll have different kinds of opportunities,” Tweedy said. “One we noticed last month was in IT. It was one of the only industries that actually gained jobs in April and that’s kind of a trend for the future.”
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