February unemployment in King County sat at 5.3%, which marked a decrease from the prior month, but was still double that when compared to February 2020.
The numbers were released as part of the Employment Security Department’s monthly unemployment report. It shows that a year after the COVID-19 pandemic began, unemployment countywide was still twice as high as the previous year. Over the last year, the county’s labor force has also contracted, with 2,737 people, or 0.2 percent of the workforce exiting.
Unemployment hit a high mark of 15.1% in April 2020 as coronavirus restrictions were implemented. Since then, it has gradually tapered off. Statewide, the non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for Washington state decreased from 6.8% this January to 6.4% in February. The unemployment rate is projected to increase to 7.19% on average through 2021, before dropping to 6.14% next year. This signals a slower recovery than previously predicted.
The wave of unemployment claims seen in April 2020 were unprecedented, reaching 137,775 initial claims in King County alone. In February 2021, 12,156 new claims were filed in the county, with a total of 43,578 residents collecting benefits.
The report provided the following breakdown of where jobs were being gained and lost:
From January to February 2021, total employment in goods-producing industries expanded by 3,400, with employment growth observed in both construction and manufacturing. Year-over-year, goods-producing employment was down 14,300 or 7.8 percent.
Employment levels in construction-related industries expanded by 2,600 from January to February. The tally of jobs in construction was estimated at 79,400. Year-to-year, employment in construction was up 400 or 0.5 percent.
• Despite a major temporary setback due to physical distancing protocols in April, King County based employment in construction quickly resumed and surpassed last year’s levels. Recent growth has been concentrated in the largest component of construction. Specialty trade contractors added 1,000 jobs over the year.
• Construction is a highly-seasonal industry. While we can expect to see seasonal losses over the winter, a strong real estate market and a boom in home improvement projects is continuing to buoy this set of industries.
Manufacturing represents a variety of activities in King County, with products ranging from aircraft, marine and electronic products to food manufacturing. In February, King County-located manufacturing employers collectively added 800 jobs. Over the year, total manufacturing employment was down 14,700 or 14.2 percent.
• Aerospace products and parts manufacturing shed an estimated 500 jobs over the month and shed 8,500 jobs over the year. The count of aerospace products and parts manufacturing only catches those employers that are directly and primarily responsible for manufacturing aerospace products.
Other products and services in the supply chain are counted under their best fit industries.
• Employment in nondurable goods expanded by 1,100 over the month but fell by 1,800 jobs over the year.
Service providers represent an extremely diverse collection of sectors. Taken as a whole, service-providing employers added 14,000 jobs in February. Over the year, service providers shed 82,600 jobs. The largest one-month increases were observed in leisure and hospitality and professional and business services. The deepest one-month losses were observed in information. Over the year, retail trade and information (two industries that have a strong IT component in King County) added the most jobs. The deepest losses to the service sector were observed in leisure and hospitality and financial activities.
Wholesale trade employment decreased by 200 in February and by 6,900 or 10.9 percent below the employment level observed 12 months ago. Wholesale trade accounted for 56,200 King County-based jobs in February 2021.
Net employment in retail trade grew by 800 over the month. Over the year, retail trade employment expanded by an estimated 9,400 jobs (5.7 percent).
• Motor vehicle and parts dealers were down 1,400 jobs over the year and general merchandise stores were up 100. Food and beverage stores, considered essential businesses, expanded employment by 1,900 over the year.
• The story of retail trade will be an interesting one to follow in the weeks ahead, and will likely expose expanding rifts between online and in-person retail sales. Scaling up to the statewide level, “other retail,” a category which includes online retail sales, expanded by 8,000 jobs over the year.
Net employment in transportation, warehousing and utilities expanded by 200 over the month but remains 4,300 below last February’s employment level. This set of industries accounted for an estimated 49,800 King County jobs.
• Over the year, air transportation was down 1,300 jobs (8.6 percent) and support activities for transportation was down 2,300 (18.4 percent). Truck transportation added 200 jobs.
• Employment in warehousing and storage remained steady over the year. Employment in the information sector contracted by 700 over the month but grew by 5,200 jobs or 4.1 percent over the year. This sector, which includes everything from software publishers to radio stations, newspapers and movie theaters had an estimated tally of 131,000 jobs in February.
• The information sector includes software publishing activities. Employment in software publishing neither expanded nor contracted over the month but expanded by 3,400 (4.8 percent) over the year.
The financial activities sector includes the finance, insurance, real estate and rental and leasing industries. The overall employment level decreased by 100 over the month and by 1,900 over the year.
• Over the year, employers in finance and insurance collectively added 1,500 jobs. Real estate and rental and leasing employment dropped by 3,400 over the year.
Professional and business services includes a variety of professional and technical services such as accounting and engineering services. It also includes administrative support and management services and supports day to day business operations with services such as housekeeping and temporary employment services. In short, these are the businesses that provide operational support to others in the business community. In February, this diverse sector added 4,200 jobs. Over the year, professional and business services contracted by 2,600 jobs (1.1 percent).
• From February 2020 to February 2021, professional, scientific and technical services added 4,400 jobs (3.2 percent), management of companies and enterprises fell by 2,700 (8.5 percent), and administrative support, waste management and remediation was down 4,200 jobs (5.6 percent).
Employment services was down 1,000 jobs over the year
Employment levels in educational and health services expanded by 1,900 over the month. Over the year, this diverse sector was down 5,700 or 3.0 percent. Educational and health services accounted for an estimated 185,100 King County-based jobs in February 2021.
• Healthcare and education is comprised of a diverse set of industries, each of which is being affected somewhat differently in this health crisis. Over the year, private educational services shed 4,500 jobs. Ambulatory health care services shed 1,700 jobs, hospitals shed 300 and nursing and residential care facilities were down 1,100 jobs. The only industry adding jobs over the year was social assistance (up 1,900).
Leisure and hospitality employment grew by 7,000 over the month, following the deepest losses of any industry in April. Over the year, the industries that entertain residents and visitors alike was down 54,600 jobs or 38.3 percent.
• Food services and drinking places saw the deepest losses (down 34,100 over the year) but accommodation experienced the deepest proportional losses (58.0 percent).
Other services represents a diverse collection of industries that do not fit elsewhere and include employers ranging from religious and grant-making organizations to hair dressers, auto mechanics and dry cleaners to membership clubs. Overall employment levels increased by 800 over the month but remained 7,900 below levels observed one year ago. Other services represented 46,400 King County jobs in February 2021.
• The deepest 12-month losses were observed in personal and laundry services (down 5,400). Government employers collectively added 100 jobs over the month but shed 13,300 jobs over the year.
• Month-to-month gains were concentrated at the local level, while losses were observed at the state level (particularly among state education).
• Faculty and staff reductions in state and local education drove decreases at both state and local levels of government.
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