Job data released this week by state officials show the lowest November unemployment rate in at least 31 years for Yakima County, and continuing growth in nonfarm jobs.
Don Meseck, regional labor economist with the state’s Employment Security Department, said November’s 4.9% unemployment rate for Yakima County was not only 2.9% lower than November 2020’s 7.8% rate, it is the lowest rate for November since data began to be recorded electronically in 1990.
“This November, there were 127,760 residents in the labor force versus 122,738 in November 2020, a 4.1% increase,” Meseck said. “This labor force expansion coupled with a contraction in the number of unemployed pushed Yakima County’s unemployment rate down … excellent economic news.”
The statewide unemployment rate also declined steeply over the past year, with Washington’s jobless rate falling from 6.5% in November 2020 to 3.4% this November.
Meseck reported that the key to Yakima County’s jobs rebound over the past year has been nonfarm employment. Between November 2020 and November 2021, total nonfarm employment in the county increased by 4,000 jobs (up 4.8%), from 83,300 to 87,300 jobs.
Two economic sectors — construction and the leisure/hospitality industry — have led the way in job growth over the past 12 months, Meseck reported.
Construction employment declined year-over-year for 12 months, from April 2020 through March 2021, before increasing in each of the past eight months. Meseck said preliminary data show 4,300 jobs in the local construction industry in November 2021, about 100 more jobs than one year ago.
COVID-19 and the business restrictions and closures it prompted hit the leisure and hospitality industries hard, Meseck said, with employment plummeting 19.9% between November 2019 and November 2020. Nearly all of those Yakima County jobs came back one year later, however — with data showing an increase from 6,000 to 7,900 leisure and hospitality jobs between November 2020 and November 2021, a 19.7% increase.
“Nevertheless, leisure and hospitality employment this November was still 200 jobs and 2.5% below the 8,100 leisure and hospitality jobs tallied in November 2019,” Meseck added.
Leisure and hospitality businesses include hotels, eating and drinking places, and amusement and recreation services. Statewide, the latter category’s entertainment and recreation businesses (fitness centers, golf courses, casinos, museums) saw an increase of 29.3%, from 32,400 to 41,900 jobs, between November 2020 and November 2021.
Finally, employment in Yakima County’s local government sector has been either stable or increasing on a year-to-year basis each month since April 2021, Meseck said. This November, local government — which includes schools, police and fire departments, local health departments, courts and city/county government positions — reported 14,100 jobs, an increase of 1,100 jobs, or 8.5%, from the 13,000 tallied in November 2020.