200510-yh-bl-restaurants-1.jpg

Fuego Margarita Bar chef Carlos Bueno heats burrito sauce, refried beans, black beans and ground beef before opening at noon on Thursday, May 14, 2020, in Yakima, Wash.

As expected, the COVID-19 pandemic led to massive job losses and a drastic rise in unemployment last month in Yakima County.

Yakima County reported 13.9% unemployment in April, well above the 7.6% rate reported just a year ago, according to preliminary figures from the state Employment Security Department released Tuesday. The number of residents who were on unemployment nearly doubled — from 9,450 in April 2019 to 18,434 last month.

This is the highest unemployment rate for the county since 2013, when unemployment was at 10.3%. At the time, the county was still experiencing a slow recovery from the national recession of the late 2000s.

The county hasn’t seen unemployment rates that high since the late 1990s, when the agriculture industry was adversely impacted by the Asian financial crisis.

Don Meseck, regional economist for Employment Security said while claims aren’t the only factor when calculating the unemployment rate, the astronomically high number of claims is an indicator that the rate would continue to increase next month.

For the week ending May 16, Yakima County had 16,219 continuing unemployment claims. The unemployment rate also accounts for jobless workers who wouldn’t qualify for unemployment benefits.

“I don’t think we have seen the apex of the unemployment rate,” he said. “I don’t have a crystal ball and I could be wrong, but I would not be surprised if the unemployment rate continued to rise in May.”

The county’s unemployment rate, however, was below the 15.8% reported statewide. A sizable portion of Yakima County residents work in industries such as agriculture and health care that are considered critical.

Those sectors weren’t immune from job losses, though.

The county had 75,100 nonagricultural jobs last month, a 12,000-job drop from the same month a year ago, according to preliminary Employment Security figures.

Just about every nonagricultural sector had fewer jobs compared to last year, but some industries experienced much deeper cuts. Leisure and hospitality lost 4,700 jobs from a year ago. About 3,300 of those jobs were in food services, which has been limited to restaurants offering take-out and delivery.

Health services reported a huge loss as well — 2,000 jobs year over year. While many health care workers continued working to treat those affected by COVID-19, there were job losses as elective procedures were temporarily halted and surgical departments and dentist offices closed.

Manufacturing and professional and business services lost 900 jobs each. Government lost 800 jobs, retail trade lost 700 jobs and construction lost 600 jobs.

Such across-the-board job cuts are unprecedented, especially in such a short time, Meseck said.

“I’ve never seen the labor market turn around this rapidly in a one-month time frame,” he said.

Coronavirus Coverage

Because of the health and safety concerns, the Herald-Republic is allowing unlimited access with registration to our stories and resources about the novel coronavirus. However, if you’re able to subscribe, please support our journalism. Click here to start your digital subscription.

Reach Mai Hoang at maihoang@yakimaherald.com or Twitter @maiphoang