Clark County employers added approximately 100 jobs in December, capping a tumultuous year in which the county suffered a net loss of 12,300 jobs since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and 10,800 jobs over the whole year.
The latest monthly report from regional economist Scott Bailey said the seasonally adjusted 12,300 job net loss figure represents about 7.1 percent of the county’s total employment from February 2020. The 100 job gain in December works out to 500 jobs when adjusted to account for seasonal trends.
Clark County fared worse than Washington overall, which suffered a 4.1 percent loss during the same 10-month time period, but better than the full Portland metro area, which suffered a 10.3 percent loss.
The biggest drop came in April, when the county lost a seasonally adjusted 19,400 jobs. The county regained 10,200 jobs over the following four months, then lost 3,600 jobs in September. October, November and December collectively saw the return of about 800 jobs.
December’s job gains were mostly in the retail trade sector at the tail end of the holiday shopping season, Bailey wrote. That sector added 400 jobs, but it was offset by a loss of 400 jobs in the food services sector due to changes in health regulations.
“It was in some ways a pretty typical December, except for the food services,” Bailey said. “That’s what we saw nationally, too. A lot of the job loss was concentrated in restaurants.”
The leisure and hospitality sector was the hardest hit in 2020, with a net loss of 4,100 jobs — about 25.2 percent of its total employment — over the course of the year. Government jobs and jobs classified as “other services” also saw double-digit percentage net declines.
Some of Clark County’s big sectors finished the year with comparatively smaller losses; the construction, mining and logging sector was down 2.5 percent; trade, transportation and utilities were down 3.9 percent and manufacturing came out neutral, Bailey wrote.
Only two sectors saw net gains in 2020. Financial services added 200 jobs — an increase of 2.1 percent — and education and health services added 200 jobs, an increase of 0.7 percent. Information services increased by 10.7 percent, but that was due to the industry being moved to a different classification code rather than changes in economic conditions, according to Bailey.
Clark County’s December unemployment rate was 7 percent — representing about 16,000 people — compared with 4.2 percent a year earlier. Unemployment claims continued to be filed in high numbers at the start of the new year, Bailey wrote.
The Clark County food services industry saw the highest number of claims in the most recent week ending Jan. 16, with 1,989 claims including both new and continuing claims. Retail trade, health care and social assistance, educational services and construction all had more than 900 claims, and manufacturing had 780.
January could see a return to net negative job growth. The retail gains in December are usually followed by losses in January once the holiday season ends, Bailey said, and there will likely be seasonal losses in the construction sector too.
“In regular times, we always lose jobs in January,” he said. “January (and) February are the highest unemployment months, typically.”