In May, the goods producing sectors had bounced back to nearly 92 percent of their February level, as construction sites and factories got back to work. Consumer service began its slow climb out of the depths. Almost all of the job losses in state and local government have been in the education sector.
Total continued claims in the region fell by about 36,000 from the previous week. Throughout the region, continued claims were about 12 percent of the jobs identified by ESD in 2019. This can stand as a very rough proxy for an unemployment rate, and it would be consistent with the reported federal rate of 13 percent from mid-May. People have been returning to work since mid-May, so even with the reporting errors in the federal unemployment data, we are in the ballpark.
We are finally beginning to get a picture of the economic damage done to the state by the coronavirus shutdown. As of mid-April, employment in the state is down 16 percent from peak employment in February. While unprecedented in recent decades, this job loss, which has likely peaked and much of which is temporary, is nowhere near the job losses of the Great Depression, to which it often gets compared.
We cannot know in real time how many Washingtonians are truly unemployed. But it seems as though the number of unemployed people is quite a bit smaller than would be indicated simply by looking at the figures on first-time claims for unemployment benefits.
Layoffs and furloughs have fallen unevenly on the workforce. Unemployment is far more likely for workers without college degrees, and somewhat more likely for non-white workers and younger workers. Generous unemployment benefits mitigate the financial difficulty of job losses, but the prospects of returning to an old job remain uncertain for many.