Growth reflects rebound from COVID-19 declines
Okanogan County’s economy has continued to bounce back from the downturn of the COVID-19 pandemic, ending last year with record low unemployment, according to recently released state employment figures.
Data for the month of December 2021 show Okanogan County’s unemployment rate was 5.2% percent — the lowest December unemployment in more than 30 years of data collection, said Don Meseck, a regional labor economist for the Washington Employment Security Department. That compares to a 7.7% unemployment rate in December 2020 and 7.6% unemployment rate in December 2019 — prior to pandemic-related layoffs.
Job growth figures also signal good economic news. “In December 2021, total nonfarm employment in Okanogan County tallied 1,400 more jobs than in December 2020, rebounding from 11,710 jobs to 13,110, a 12% upturn,” Meseck said in an analysis of Okanogan County’s economy.
The county appears to be in a strong position as of the end of 2021, even compared to its pre-pandemic economic condition, Meseck said. Total nonfarm employment countywide in December 2021 was 580 jobs (4.6%) greater than the number of jobs tallied two years ago in December 2019.
“In fact, total nonfarm employment estimates for each month in the fourth quarter of 2021 (October through December 2021) are encouraging since all have elevated above the pre-Covid levels for the corresponding months in the fourth quarter of 2019,” Meseck said.
In another sign of good economic news, state economic figures show an increase in the number of people joining the work force in Okanogan County. “Between the Decembers of 2020 and 2021, Okanogan County’s labor force grew by 1,073 residents, from 18,379 to 19,452, a 5.8% upturn. Simultaneously, 398 fewer people were out of work during this timeframe, a 28% downturn,” Meseck said.
During the last four months of 2021, Okanogan County saw “a relatively robust labor force expansion from September through December 2021(that) offset a lethargic or shrinking civilian labor force in the first eight months of 2021,” he said.
“Civilian labor force year-over-year growth rates in the last four months of 2021 indicate that Okanogan County residents are rapidly rejoining the local labor force,” said Meseck. (Civilian labor force is defined by the U. S. Census Bureau as people over 16, who are not in the military or an institution, who are employed or unemployed.)
The labor force num
bers in December 2021 are still slightly lower, by 159 residents, than the “pre-COVID days” of December 2019, but Meseck said the trend in labor force growth over the past several months is a positive sign for the county’s economic recovery in the wake of COVID-19 setbacks.
Looking at the economic picture for the entire year, the county’s labor market in 2021 was “excellent,” Meseck said. Preliminary employment estimates “indicate that the local economy averaged 510 more jobs in 2021 (12,530 jobs) than in 2020 (12,020 jobs) — a 4.2% increase in total nonfarm employment,” he said.
“This was the fastest nonfarm employment growth rate in at least the past 13 years,” Meseck said. More than two-thirds of the job growth (68.6%) of the job growth between 2020 and 2021 were in three sectors of the economy — retail trade, state and local government, and leisure and hospitality, he said.
Preliminary figures for 2021 indicate the county gained retail trade gained 100 jobs, state and local government gained 70 jobs, and leisure and hospitality (hotels, eating and drinking places and amusement and recreation services) gained 180 jobs. These sectors are among the top employers and income generators in the Methow Valley economy.
Comparing the months of December of 2020 to December of 2021, the job growth in the leisure in hospitality showed “an appreciable 59.8% upturn as employment increased from 920 jobs to 1,470 jobs respectively,” Meseck said. “In a nutshell, as 2021 progressed, year-over-year growth in leisure and hospitality has gotten relatively stronger.” A similar trend in growth in leisure and hospitality has occurred statewide, he said.
The data provided by the state Employment Security Department is not seasonally adjusted, meaning the statistics have not been adjusted to remove effects of seasonal patterns, such as construction, tourism and holiday retail sales.