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Sept. 24, 2020

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Clark County’s unemployment rate jumps to 13.8 percent

Economist warns that county’s actual rate may be 5 percent higher

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
Published:

Clark County lost about 24,300 jobs in April as the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic hit home, pushing the unemployment rate to 13.8 percent.

“We knew from unemployment claims data over the last two months that there was substantial job loss,” said Scott Bailey, regional economist for Southwest Washington.

The county’s rate was not as high as the state’s, which was at 15.4 percent in April.

Bailey said that the county’s 13.8 unemployment rate, which was calculated by the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, may be roughly 5 percentage points lower than the actual amount, however.

“The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics was clear that likely several million workers were misclassified as working, but were at home as opposed to being laid off,” he said. “The county is directly tied into the national rate, so our true unemployment rate might be another 5 percentage points higher than that.”

The county lost jobs in every sector, according to the statistics. The hardest-hit industry was leisure and hospitality, which is mainly restaurants, hotels and motels. That sector lost 4,900 jobs in the county, a 29.3 percent decrease.

The “other services” sector, which includes hairdressers and salons, was the second-hardest-hit industry. It had a 22.6 percent drop, which accounted for 1,400 jobs.

The construction industry in Clark County lost 2,300 jobs, a 15 percent drop.

It’s not the highest unemployment rate on record. That happened in February 1983, when the unemployment rate hit 14.8 percent, according to Bailey.

“Things were pretty bad back then,” he said. “The one in 1983 was caused directly by an economic recession that tied into the Federal Reserve’s actions to try to stop inflation. We had double-digit inflation, and they cranked up interest rates, which brought a slowdown to home
building.”

The Northwest was particularly affected by the home building slowdown in 1983 because lumber was a dominant industry in Clark County then, Bailey said.

May’s unemployment rate will be released on June 23.

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