King County 2020 unemployment numbers. Source: Washington State Employment Security Department

King County 2020 unemployment numbers. Source: Washington State Employment Security Department

Boeing, coronavirus likely to impact King County economy

Unemployment remained high in September.

Countywide unemployment numbers for September continue to paint a bleak picture of the state of the economy as the coronavirus pandemic continues to take its toll.

A summary was released Oct. 20 by the Washington State Employment Security Department, summarizing last month’s figures.

Across King County this September, non-seasonally adjusted unemployment dropped slightly to reach 7%. But it’s more than twice the rate of unemployment seen in September 2019, which reached 2.8%.

Six major industries in the report expanded the number of jobs they offered this September, but five other industries reported lost jobs. The largest one-month gains were in leisure and hospitality — an industry hit hard by COVID-19 restrictions — and government and construction. The largest losses came from retail trade.

The labor force in King County was slightly more than 1.281 million workers last month, with just under 1.92 employed.

However, the county is doing marginally better than the statewide unemployment rate, which sat at 7.4%. Washington’s unemployment rate was expected to increase to 7.7% in 2021, and drop to 6% in 2022.

And the report’s author, Regional Labor Economist Anneliese Sherman, said she expects to see even more unemployment claims filed through December.

“Based on the usual seasonal rhythms, I do expect unemployment insurance claims to climb over the next several weeks until the end of the year,” she said.

Compounding this is Boeing’s recent announcement that it will be shifting production of the 787 airliner from Everett to North Carolina in 2021.

While the most acute effects of this decision will be felt in Everett and Snohomish County, Sherman said, it’s likely a ripple effect will hit King County and surrounding areas, as companies that contract with Boeing are forced to either find new customers or try and supply parts to North Carolina.

“There’s going to be a lot of indirect impact on the local economy,” Sherman said. “And in Snohomish County, we tend to feel that every time there is a major shift in manufacturing from Boeing, you do see it in other industries throughout the region.”

In King County, travel and leisure jobs have been hit hard, especially related to air travel. Some 4,900 air transportation jobs, nearly one-third of the total number, have disappeared in the last 12 months, the report states.

Some other takeaways from the report include:

• Net employment in retail trade decreased by 900 over the month, but managed to expand by an estimated 1,300 over the year.

• Motor vehicle and parts dealers were up 200 jobs over the year, and general merchandise stores were down 2,900.

• Food and beverage stores, considered essential businesses, expanded employment by 900 over the year.

• Scientific, technical services added 6,000 jobs year over year.

• Government employers collectively added 1,800 jobs over the month, but shed an estimated 4,800 jobs over the year. The largest 12 month losses were from local government, including public schools. The largest gains were from federal employment related to the census.

Sherman said that King County is likely in a better position to eventually make an economic rebound. It has a larger and more diverse economy.

A press release from King County Executive Dow Constantine on Oct. 21 touts the county’s AAA bond rating, which is the highest possible. It was recently reaffirmed, allowing the county to finance construction, open space acquisition and other projects at the lowest possible costs. It is the only county in the state to receive this rating from all three major rating agencies.


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