The Chronicle: “Lewis County’s Jobless Rate Ranks Worst in State”

» Posted by on Dec 27, 2012 in News | Comments Off on The Chronicle: “Lewis County’s Jobless Rate Ranks Worst in State”

Lewis County’s Jobless Rate Ranks Worst in State

Amy Nile, The Chronicle

December 27, 2012

Even as extended unemployment benefits are set to disappear next week, Lewis County’s jobless rate rose in November to the highest in the state at 11.5 percent, according to statistics released Wednesday by the state Employment Security Department. But the statewide jobless figure fell to 7.8 percent and the national rate dropped to 7.7 percent over the month.

Because the state’s jobless rate has fallen, the federal 99-week extended unemployment benefits will expire Jan. 1. Now, jobless people will receive just 26 weeks of unemployment checks.

That leaves the 690 people who were on the extended benefits in Lewis County as of Nov. 30 without help.

Jim Vleming, a labor market economist for Lewis, Grays Harbor, Pacific, Mason and Thurston counties, said it is hard to gauge whether or not the loss of benefits will cause the county’s jobless rate to decrease as more and more people drop off the unemployment radar.

“It’s always an active situation of people jumping in and out so it’s hard to track that number,” he said.

Lewis County’s 11.5 percent jobless rate for November remained much higher than other areas across the state, with 10 of the state’s 39 counties falling below 7 percent unemployment. Additionally, 13 counties’ jobless rates dropped below 9 percent and a dozen were under 11 percent.

“The good news is Lewis County was at 12.6 last year,” Vleming said. “We’re definitely moving in the right direction.”

The average income in Lewis County for 2011 was $38,325, also much lower that the state’s average of $55,500. Vleming said the statewide annual income figures are skewed by King County’s large high-wage employers like Microsoft and Amazon.

Just four counties, including Lewis County, had unemployment figures greater than 11 percent in November.

Grays Harbor County shared the pain in November with an 11.4 percent jobless rate, coming in just over Wahkiakum County’s 11.2 percent, followed by Ferry County at 11.1 percent.

Cowlitz County’s November unemployment figure also remained high at 9.9 percent, while Pacific County fared slightly worse at 10.5 percent. Both counties have suffered job losses in manufacturing, which has contributed to the high unemployment rates.

Thurston County’s jobless rate remained much lower than its surrounding counties at 6.9 percent due to the stability government jobs create for the area.

Whitman County boasted November’s lowest unemployment rate at 5.2 percent thanks to jobs created by Washington State University. San Juan County followed with 5.7 percent unemployment due to the large tourism industry.

The Lewis County area has historically relied on manufacturing, lumber and natural resources to create job growth. If the proposed Centralia Station, a 43-acre development off the Mellen Street interchange, is built, Vleming said, it could improve Lewis County’s consistently high jobless rate.

The project could bring hundreds of construction jobs in addition to permanent retail, medical and education positions to the area.

In the meantime, Vleming said, he expects the jobless number to keep rising through the winter and then begin decreasing in February or March.

“We’re going to see it continue to increase slightly,” he said.