Grant County saw a third straight month of rising unemployment last May compared to the same time last year, according to data posted by the Washington State Economic Security Department. The turn in local job markets has experts nervous but cautioning against grim expectations.
“Whether this is a trend, it’s too soon to tell,” said Donald Meseck, regional economist for the WSESD. “It’s not time to hit the panic button.”
Unemployment rates in Grant County are growing slightly faster than the county’s workforce, leading to an uptick in joblessness numbers compared to last year, according to data for May posted by the Washington State Economic Security Department.
Economists and business groups haven’t been blindsided by the less-than-stellar job report, as non-farm labor in Grant County has grown at a slower pace than the rest of the state for more than three years now, said Donald Meseck, regional economist for the WSESD.
In the last three months, however, significant job loss in non-farm sectors turned slow growth into outright job loss. There were 420 fewer non-farm labor jobs compared to 2017.
The mining, logging and construction sector saw a 6.8 percent decline in jobs compared to 2017, while manufacturing of durable goods lost a comparable 6.9 percent of jobs. Federal government positions, a relatively small sector in Grant County, fell just over 5 percent.
The temp agency industry contracted more than any other sector, with a precipitous 25.8 percent loss in workers. As temp agencies hire workers for temporary positions in a wide variety of industries, the health of the industry is often looked at as a snapshot of the broader economy.
Despite commonly being seen as an economic bellwether, the inherent volatility of the temp agency industry means a few months of job loss might not portend long-term woes, Meseck said.
Naomi Tijerina, office manager for temp agency Express Employment Professionals in Moses Lake, said in an email that despite a notable downswing in business in recent months, business seems to be recovering.
“We have noticed bigger/larger corporations facing a reduction in workforce in our territory that began end of last year and has continued this year,” Tijerina wrote. “However, with that said, in the last few weeks our location has noticed an increase in workers compared to last year and an increase in hours worked from the companies we are currently working with.”
Tijerina said that in her experience the majority of losses previously seen had been in production-based companies.
Not all industries suffered job losses in May. More than 300 jobs were added to the education and health services sectors, and the information and financial services sector had 7.4 percent more jobs than in 2017.
Data for June will not be available until the end of July.
Despite a modest increase in overall unemployment in recent months, the percentage of Grant County residents without a job had been steadily decreasing year-by-year since 2010, when unemployment in the county skyrocketed to as high as 15.1 percent.
Grant County’s unemployment rate is relatively average for Washington. King County had the lowest unemployment rate at 3 percent, and Ferry County had the highest at 13.5 percent. Unemployment figures do not count those who are not seeking work.
Neighboring Adams County saw a small increase in joblessness in April compared to last year but fell below 2017 unemployment levels again by May. Kittitas County has seen four consecutive months of rising unemployment as compared to the previous year.