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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Improving economy contributes to lowest 4-week average of continued state jobless claims since start of the pandemic

An improving economy and declining unemployment applications have resulted in the lowest four-week average of continued jobless claims in Washington state since the start of the pandemic, according to the state Employment Security Department.

The four-week average for continued jobless claims was 50,848, a decrease of 13,163 from the four-week average in September.

Continued jobless claims refer to those receiving weekly benefits, while new claims are from recently laid-off workers.

“In the county, we’re not at a historic low, but job recovery is right in line with where we were before the pandemic,” said Doug Tweedy, a regional economist with the Washington state Employment Security Department.

The four-week average of new claims filed in Spokane County was 1,229, an increase of 104 claims compared with the four-week average of 1,125 in September.

“The continued claims for unemployment insurance and initial claims – which we’ve really tracked carefully because it’s a leading indicator of layoffs in the future – is right about where we were in October 2019,” Tweedy added.

Spokane County’s labor market has recovered most of the jobs lost during the pandemic primarily due to diversified job sectors and an uptick in activity in warehousing and transportation, which includes Amazon, FedEx and UPS, Tweedy said.

“Our employers here are very diversified and over 55% of our businesses were considered essential, so that gave us a real good base to bounce up from,” Tweedy said. “Not all regions have a diversified mix of employers.”

The number of positions created by Amazon – which opened two fulfillment centers in the region during the pandemic – is not yet known and will be revealed in the department’s October unemployment report scheduled for release next week, Tweedy said.

“With addition of job increases in transportation and warehousing, we estimate that we’ll be 2,000 jobs above where we were before the pandemic,” Tweedy said.

Spokane County’s preliminary unemployment rate dropped in September to match a historic low of 3.5% reached in October 1997, as the region continued to recover jobs lost since the pandemic’s onset in 2020.

Spokane County gained 2,900 jobs from August to September, Tweedy told The Spokesman-Review in September. October unemployment data has not yet been released.

However, labor shortages in the retail trade and hospitality sectors could persist in the coming months as workers shift industries, Tweedy said.

Some workers haven’t yet returned to the labor market, due in part to difficulty in finding child care, reconsideration about where they want to work and risk aversion to jobs with frequent customer interaction as a result of the pandemic, said Grant Forsyth, chief economist for Avista Corp.

“There are a lot of jobs out there, but there’s a lot of people on the sidelines trying to decide what they should do,” Forsyth said. “Some still have child care issues they haven’t resolved … People without children are on the sidelines evaluating where they want to work versus where they worked in the past. There is a lot of opportunity for people wanting to switch jobs and industries and that’s preventing them from taking the first job that comes along.”

Forsyth will be presenting a regional and local economic outlook for the year at Greater Spokane Incorporated’s annual economic forecast, held Tuesday at the Spokane Convention Center.

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