Cowlitz County’s unemployment rate dropped slightly in August, but back-to-back increases in continued unemployment claim filings in September may mean recent improvements in the labor market have stalled, according a regional economist.
Southwest Washington regional economist Scott Bailey said, “Cowlitz County, and really the whole Southwest Washington region, is pretty much in line with the state and nation in terms of high unemployment that’s been improving.”
“We have some recovery of jobs, but still a fair amount of job loss,” he said.
About 9.4% of the county’s labor force was jobless in August. That’s two percentage points less than July but nearly three points higher than August 2019.
Statewide, the unemployment rate dropped to 8.5%, compared to 10.2% in July. Washington also added about 19,800 jobs in August, according to the state Employment Security Department.
During August, the county averaged 2,700 regular continued unemployment claims a week, according to Bailey’s monthly job market report. Continued claims indicate how many workers are filing for unemployment benefits more than one week, or roughly how many people remain jobless.
Week-to-week claims trended downward throughout August, with about 2,800 filed the first full week of the month and about 2,500 filed the last week of the month.
However, the trend saw a reversal in mid-September, Bailey said. Nearly 2,600 continued claims were filed during the week ending Sept. 12.
“So in September, we are starting to look at job loss again,” he said.
Most of the recent job loss appears to be from the educational services sector, he said.
Longview School District last month temporarily laid off 236 employees. And Kelso School District cut hours or furloughed about 200 staff members earlier this month.
“This is actually what I’ve been saying for a couple of months now. Wait for those education cuts,” Bailey said. “I also think at some point, we will see state employment cut because of the state budget shortfall.”
What the labor market does moving forward will depend largely on potential virus activity, social behaviors, such as following mask-wearing and social distancing rules, and the federal government, Bailey said.
“Who knows how this winter is going to play out,” he said. “Those are three unknowns right now,” he said.
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