Adams County unemployment increases in July

by CHERYL SCHWEIZER
Staff Writer | September 15, 2020 1:00 AM

RITZVILLE — Unemployment rose in Adams County in July, both when measured against July 2019 and against June 2020, but it might not be as bad as the inital numbers make it look.

The employment picture did have one bright spot - employment in the transportation, warehousing and utilities sector grew in July, compared both to June 2020 and to July 2019.

Adams County unemployment was 9.2 percent in July, up from 7.3 percent in June. Unemployment was 3.9 percent in July 2019.

Don Meseck, regional labor economist for the Washington Department of Employment Security, said the increase in unemployment was driven by job losses in the government sector.

The county’s transportation and warehousing sector, however, has been growing since April, when compared to the same period in 2019. “Year over year job growth trends (in that sector) have been accelerating since the onset of the pandemic,” Meseck said.

Transportation and warehousing grew by 110 jobs from July 2019 to July 2020. Most of the job growth appears to be related to increased hiring in agriculture-related businesses.

Federal, state and local governments lost 250 jobs from June to July 2020, and 810 jobs from July 2019 to July 2020.

“Within the three levels of government in Adams County, over 90 percent of employment is in local government, and a large share of those positions are at local public schools or in public health services, i.e., hospitals and clinics,” Meseck wrote.

However, “these are preliminary estimates,” Meseck said, and the sample sizes are small. The estimates probably will be revised to show fewer job losses as more data becomes available, he said.

But while the job losses might be smaller than first reported, the trend is still that local government employment is shrinking, Meseck said. Both schools and hospitals were affected by the measures taken to combat the COVID-19 outbreak.

Hospitals cut back on non-emergency surgeries, visits to medical offices were restricted, and some services, such as vocational rehabilitation, were scaled back. That contributed to layoffs in that sector during the spring and early summer, including July, Meseck said.

Most of the layoffs in education affected non-teaching jobs, Meseck said. “Hopefully many of these layoffs will be temporary in nature with personnel being rehired when classes resume,” he wrote.

Agriculture is still the most important sector in Adams County’s economy, however. Agriculture employment trends are measured over a 10-year period, with the latest data covering 2009 to 2019. Agriculture increased its share of the local job market in those 10 years, accounting for 34 percent of the total number of jobs covered by the employment security department in 2019. That’s up from 19.9 percent of total covered jobs in 2009.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at cschweizer@columbiabasinherald.com.