Skagit County’s unemployment rate dropped to a pandemic low in July, and employment has grown as businesses have reopened.

Even as many have returned to work, the county’s economy was still down 3,200 jobs compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019, recent state data shows.

People still looking for work or working reduced hours are now faced with the end of federal pandemic unemployment benefits, a COVID-19 safety net first created by Congress in spring 2020 and extended in 2021.

Labor Day marked the end of two federal programs that expanded and extended unemployment insurance, and the end of a $300 weekly unemployment supplement.

Congress did not act to extend the programs.

Unemployment insurance claims drop

The number of people filing new unemployment claims has been steadily falling, state data shows.

The week of Aug. 22-28, 118 Skagit County residents filed new unemployment claims. For that same week in 2020, 270 people filed new unemployment claims.

Continuing unemployment claims are also falling.

About 950 Skagit County residents filed continuing claims the last week of August, compared to 3,696 people during the same week in 2020.

The unemployment rate fell to 5% in July, the lowest it has been during the pandemic.

“Generally speaking, the relatively low unemployment rate suggests that people who are willing and able to work are successfully connecting with jobs,” Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional labor economist for the state Economic Security Department, wrote in an Aug. 25 monthly labor update.

She noted that more parents may return to workplaces with schools reopening for in-person learning this fall.

However, “COVID cases are spiking at the moment, which has the potential to change the story,” she wrote.

Employment rises, but hiring still a challenge

Employment in Skagit County across all nonfarm industries — with the exception of the government sector — remained flat or increased in July, state data shows.

Employment at restaurants, bars, hotels and entertainment venues increased by 200 jobs. The mining, logging and construction industries added 100 jobs, as did the trade, transportation, warehousing and utilities, and retail trade sectors.

On the whole, employment levels remained flat, neither increasing nor decreasing from the previous month.

An ongoing challenge is hiring, with businesses still struggling to fill many open positions. Help wanted signs are posted around the county, and some businesses have enticed candidates with hiring bonuses.

To connect jobs seekers with employers, the Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County and WorkSource are partnering to host another career fair.

The career fair is set for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Oct. 13, and will be held online through the platform Brazen. Employers in Skagit, Whatcom and Island counties can participate.

— Reporter Jacqueline Allison: jallison@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2145, Twitter: @Jacqueline_SVH

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