Hiring plummets in state as employers look to an uncertain autumn and a long recovery

By Paul Roberts

The Seattle Times

After a strong rebound this summer, Washington state’s job market now seems caught between a steady stream of layoffs and a slowdown in hiring by employers.

Washingtonians filed 18,403 new, or “initial,” claims for unemployment benefits for the week ending Saturday, according to figures released Thursday by the state Employment Security Department (ESD).

Although that’s down 8% from the prior week — and well below the massive levels from the first weeks of the pandemic — it’s still more than three times the number of claims that were filed the same week last year.

At the same time, the pace at which employers in Washington are hiring — or rehiring — has slowed markedly. In August, nonfarm employment increased by just 19,800 jobs, according to the most recent monthly ESD employment report.

While that helped drop the state’s unemployment rate to 8.5%, down from 10.2% in July, it also represented a sharp slowdown after months of strong hiring. In May, June and July, employers added 90,500, 108,200 and 102,800 jobs, respectively. That was after they shed more than half a million jobs in March and April combined.

August’s slowdown is bad news for a job market that still has 337,800 unemployed workers, or almost twice the number from a year earlier. If employers continued adding jobs at August’s pace, it would take more than eight months to get unemployment back to the August 2019 level.

Many employers fear that a possible surge in COVID-19 cases this fall could lead to new government restrictions and more nervous consumers, which could result in new layoffs. Others are keeping staffing low until they know whether Congress will extend federal relief.