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Fiddle's Coffee House & Juice Bar co-owner Fidel Negrete makes drinks Wednesday, June 30, 2021 in Wapato, Wash.

Yakima County’s labor market is recovering as businesses have ramped up activity in recent months.

According to preliminary figures from the state Employment Security Department, Yakima County had a 5.7% unemployment rate in June, a significant drop from 11.1% in June 2020. During this month a year ago, the county was experiencing a significant spike in new COVID-19 cases, and many businesses were shut down or operating on a limited basis due to restrictions at the time.

Since the latest figures are based on estimates made mid-month, June’s figures wouldn’t factor the state lifting most COVID-19 restrictions on businesses and social gatherings on June 30. The state has gradually lifted restrictions in the last few months, allowing businesses to operate at an increased capacity.

The June 2021 unemployment rate is also below the 5.9% rate from June 2019 and is the fourth-lowest from the month since 1990, when Employment Security kept comparable records. The rate was lower only on three years: 5.3% in June 2018, 5.5% in June 2017 and 5.6% in June 2007.

In addition, fewer residents were jobless last month compared to June 2019. Last month, 7,997 Yakima County residents were not working, lower than 8,171 residents without jobs in June 2019.

The number of people in the county’s labor force, including those working or looking for work, was also nearly equal to that of June 2019. Last month, 139,363 Yakima County residents were working or looking for work, compared to 139,576 in June 2019. And the rate from last month is certainly much higher than a year ago when 137,526 residents were in the labor force.

June’s year-over-year increase is the first in 11 months: From June 2020 to May of this year the labor force was declining year over year. That could reflect several factors, including health concerns, issues securing child care and the ability to get additional unemployment benefits, said Don Meseck, regional economist for Employment Security.

“The question is if this is a trend or a one-month thing,” Meseck said. “One month isn’t a trend, but it’s an encouraging economic (indicator).”

Businesses have reported difficulty finding workers as they try to ramp up activity in recent months after prolonged partial or total shutdown for nearly 16 months due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Meanwhile, the number of nonagricultural jobs in Yakima County increased by 5.5% to 85,600 jobs. This is the third consecutive month of job growth. However, the number of jobs are not quite back at pre-pandemic levels. The county reported 88,500 jobs in June 2019.

“We’re in the midst of a recovery, but we haven’t recovered all those jobs yet,” Meseck said.

Not surprisingly, the industries leading in job growth were most impacted by closures due to COVID-19. Leisure and hospitality, including restaurants that had to shut down or rely on take out, added 1,700 jobs year-over-year. Other industries contributing to strong job growth were education and health services, which reported 1,600 more jobs and government, which reported 1,400 more jobs.

Just two industry sectors reported a loss in jobs. Transportation, warehousing and utilities and state government each reported 100 fewer jobs year-over-year.

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