Yakima Co. labor market recovering from pandemic job losses

'The dark days of 2020 are behind us'

YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash. — Yakima County has gained back some of the more than 5,000 jobs lost last year due to COVID-19 related layoffs, but is still in the recovery process.

“As dismal an economic year as last year was, I think 2021 is definitely going to be a year of improvement,” said Don Meseck, regional labor economist with the Washington State Employment Security Department.

Meseck said the average annual unemployment rate in Yakima County spiked during the first year of the pandemic, but didn’t quite reach levels previously seen during the Great Recession.

“As bad as the unemployment rate was last year and that dramatic 7% to 9.7% increase, it still was not as high as it was back in 2011 at 10.7%” Meseck said.

Meseck said it’s an encouraging sign for the local economy that the latest data from the state shows the unemployment rate fell to 5.6% in August.

“The dark days of 2020 are behind us,” Meseck said. “We are in a recovery mode.”

Meseck said another bright spot in the current data is that the county has recovered a significant portion of the jobs it lost during the pandemic.

“We went from 115,904 jobs in 2019 down to 110,800 jobs — that’s a 5,104 job loss,” Meseck said.

Meseck said about 4,900 of those lost jobs were in non-farm industries. While non-farm employment increased by 4% from August 2020 to August 2021, the county is still down by 1,600 jobs.

“Are we a lot better than last year? Yes,” Meseck said. “Have we recovered all the jobs we lost? Not quite, but we’re getting there.”

Meseck said the biggest job losses were in four industries in Yakima County:

  • 1,191 jobs lost in accomodation and food services, including hotels, restaurants and bars
  • 953 jobs lost in local government, including support staff positions in public schools
  • 871 jobs lost in agriculture, forestry and fishing
  • 562 jobs lost in manufacturing

However, Meseck said they did see some unexpected good news for wages since the beginning of the pandemic.

“I think many people assume that because jobs were lost, payroll shrank — not so,” Meseck said. “Over 4% of our jobs were lost in the county, true, but payroll actually rose 1.9%”

At least part of that increase, Meseck said, is due to the loss of many part-time jobs and a shift toward full-time employment.

It’s unclear how many people may find themselves without a job if they do not comply with the governor’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate by the Oct. 18 deadline, but Meseck said they’re anticipating at least some increase in unemployment.

 “That’s going to probably reduce the numbers of some of our fellow workers at the state government, healthcare, police forces,” Meseck said. “I mean, just about every area of government is feeling the pinch.”

However, Meseck said they won’t be able to see the impact on the labor market in numbers until the state releases its county-specific employment data for November — which will encompass mid-to-late October and early November — in December.

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