Friday, December 4, 2020
Dec. 4, 2020

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Initial jobless claims in Clark County drop 28.5%

But regional economist concerned about future as federal action stalls

By , Columbian business reporter

Clark County saw a 28.5 percent drop in its initial regular unemployment insurance claims last week, with 821 new claims filed compared with 1,149 claims the week before. The two prior weeks both saw increased numbers of claims.

Continued regular claims also declined, although not quite as dramatically — the shift from 9,102 claims two weeks ago to 8,192 last week represents a 10 percent change. The continued claims are a better indicator of the overall trend, according to regional economist Scott Bailey, and the latest numbers fit into a pattern of a gradual decline in claims stretching back several months.

Despite the relatively good numbers this time around, Bailey said he was concerned about the likely rate of claims in the coming weeks, citing a number of factors including typical seasonal shifts in the labor market, the rate of new COVID-19 cases and a lack of federal action toward a new pandemic economic relief package.

“The pattern is, overall, total continued claims declining. That’s the good news,” he said. “The not-so-good news is we’re still at really high levels of unemployment.”

With the exception of education, every industry in Clark County saw a decline in claims last week. The construction industry experienced the biggest decrease, Bailey said, with continued claims dropping from 659 to 521.

Education sector continued claims rose from 978 to 1,200, likely due to budget cuts in K-12 education, Bailey said. There are likely to be further education sector claims in the coming weeks, he added.

Statewide, initial claims saw a 12.6 percent decrease, and continued claims saw a 4.5 percent decrease.

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation claims increased compared with the prior week, Bailey noted, which likely signals a jump in long-term unemployment because those claims are for filers who have already exhausted their regular benefits.

“The first six months of unemployment are gone, so people are moving on to the PEUC continued claim extended benefits,” he said.

Bailey said he expected to see those claims continue to increase in the coming months.

Seasonal shifts in the labor market are also likely to have a negative impact as Clark County moves into the winter season. Early fall is the time of year when unemployment claims typically bottom out, Bailey said.

Rain poses risk

The construction industry, one of the county’s biggest employers, tends to peak in October and then wind down during the winter months, he said. Other industries that involve outdoor activities also tend to see cyclical job losses as the rainy season sets in.

The rain poses a particular risk for the restaurant industry, he said, because pandemic restrictions still prevent restaurants from using their full indoor dining spaces. Many restaurants have been able to survive through the summer by expanding their outdoor seating, but that’s going to be much more difficult to sustain during cold and rainy weather.

The pandemic itself is still a major factor, he said, with cases rising both locally and nationally and flu season right around the corner.

He also pointed to the lack of a new federal economic rescue package as cause for concern. Without further assistance, a new round of small businesses may be forced to close down, he said, further adding to the unemployment numbers.

“With Congress not acting, that’s just leaving a lot of individuals and businesses in the lurch,” he said.