Grays Harbor labor market in ‘pretty good spot’

A resurgent leisure and hospitality sector powered the Grays Harbor County labor market through the first quarter of the year, as employers continued to seek out people to add to their rosters ahead of the spring and summer tourism seasons.

The hiring spree helped send the unemployment rate in Grays Harbor down to 7.6 percent in March from 9 percent in March 2021, according to a monthly report released by the Washington State Employment Security Department on April 19.

“That’s a pretty good drop,” said Jim Vleming, a regional labor economist with the Employment Security Department, on the March-over-March decline in the unemployment rate. “We’ve had some pretty high rates in the county heading into spring and summer. It’s a pretty good spot to be in.”

The decrease in the jobless rate occurred as the regional workforce grew by 1,887 people to 30,639 in March from 28,752 in March 2021. The influx of people came amid strong demand for workers in the Harbor, as several sectors added to their rosters in March.

The leisure and hospitality sector boosted its rolls by 950 people to 3,350 in March from 2,400 in March 2021. The manufacturing sector added 350 workers to bring its total employment up to 2,810 from 2,460.

The trade, transportation and utilities sector posted a gain of 260 positions to 3,820 in March from 3,560 in March 2021. At the same time, retail trade notched an increase of 240 workers to 2,740 from 2,500.

However, some sectors did shed positions. The government sector trimmed 160 positions to 6,020 in March from 6,180 in March 2021. Professional and business services was down 140 to 1,260 from 1,400 and education and health services was off 110 to 2,820 from 2,930.

All told, nonfarm payrolls rose to 23,090 in March from 21,730 in March 2021, the monthly report showed.

“Pretty much what I expected,” Vleming said. “I’m still seeing a lot of (sectors) taking off from where we were a year ago. It will be interesting (to see) if we can make demand for the jobs in the summer.”

The employment numbers were even stronger statewide, as the jobless rate sank to 4.2 percent in March from 5.8 percent in March 2021. At the same time, the state’s labor force surged to 4,003,500 from 3,878,000 while the economy added an estimated 8,800 jobs.

The numbers were nearly on par with those before COVID-19 upended economies across the country.

“March marks the 15th straight month that jobs were added to Washington payrolls,” said Paul Turek, statewide economist for the Employment Security Department, in a statement. “Total nonfarm employment is now at 30,300 jobs, or just under 1 percent below February 2020 pre-pandemic levels.”

Nationwide, the unemployment rate plunged to 3.6 percent in March from 6 percent in March 2021, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.