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Whatcom, Skagit unemployment rates rise to highest levels since 2021

Counties increase for five consecutive months

(Graphic courtesy of the Employment Security Department)
By Frank Catalano CDN Business Contributor

Unemployment rates for both Whatcom and Skagit counties increased again in February, according to new numbers released by the Washington State Employment Security Department.

Whatcom County’s non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose to 6.5%, up from 5.6% in January and continuing a climb that began in October 2023. Fewer people were employed in the county in February, down 1,067 month to month, as the report showed the overall civilian labor force — that is, individuals actively looking for jobs — also declined by 107 to 114,530.

In Skagit County, the rate increased to 6.9% in February from 6.2% in January. State figures indicate that its rate, too, has been climbing since October and, like Whatcom County, Skagit County showed fewer people employed and a smaller labor force across the two months.

Both counties now report the highest unemployment rates since March 2021, when unemployment was at 7.2% in Whatcom County and 7.6% in Skagit County. Neither, however, are near the all-time highs in the early months of the pandemic when Whatcom County reached 18.2% and Skagit County hit 19.4% in April 2020.

Jim Vleming, regional labor economist for the Employment Security Department, said it’s still too early to tell if the steady increases in both counties differ from normal yearly patterns.

“I think the trend is mostly seasonal in nature,” Vleming said. “I feel once we get into March and April, we will get a better handle on the direction of the labor market as spring typically triggers a drop in rates.”

Statewide, unemployment reached 4.7% in February, up from 4.6% in January, but state figures are seasonally adjusted and not directly comparable to the county rates.

“That 4.7% unemployment rate signals a possible shift from an unusually tight labor market that characterized the post-COVID-19 pandemic period,” said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, chief labor economist, in a statement accompanying the monthly report

At the county level, the lowest February unemployment rate was in King County, at 4.2%. Ferry County had the highest, at 13.2%.

Frank Catalano writes about business and related topics for CDN; reach him at frankcatalano@cascadiadaily.com.


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