Leisure and hospitality sector fuels job growth

An economic malaise brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has found an apparent remedy in an employment sector that caters to people who visit Grays Harbor County for business and pleasure.

The leisure and hospitality sector provided the salve the county’s economy needed in January, in turn helping send the unemployment rate tumbling to 7.6 percent from 10.3 percent in January 2021.

That marked a decrease of 2.7 percentage points in the year-over-year period, according to a monthly report released on Tuesday, March 8, by the Washington State Employment Security Department. At the same time, the total workforce in the county climbed to 31,036 from 28,689.

“I think the leisure and hospitality sector is taking off,” said Jim Vleming, a regional labor economist with the Employment Security Department, on Tuesday to The Daily World. “There is demand.”

The leisure and hospitality sector added 1,400 jobs in January, when compared with January 2021, which easily outpaced growth in other sectors that posted gains in the year-over-year period.

The manufacturing sector gained 580 jobs in January, while the trade sector was up 220 positions, followed by mining, logging and construction at 210 in the period.

Leisure and hospitality should also continue to add jobs — assuming people will fill them — given that some businesses in the sector need to bolster employment rosters.

“I’m hearing rumblings about not being able to fully staff some of the restaurants,” said Vleming, who added this sort of thing has been happening in the counties within his coverage area. Those counties include Thurston, which is home to Olympia, as well as Pierce.

Looking ahead to the spring and summer, the outlook for the Grays Harbor County labor market remains positive despite gasoline prices that have gone straight up since Russia began an invasion of neighboring Ukraine in late February. The average price of regular unleaded gasoline has climbed more than 50 cents per gallon in Washington since the invasion started and shows no signs of slowing.

But, for now, the labor market looks good. Statewide, the unemployment rate in Washington sank to 4.4 percent in January from 6 percent in January 2021. At the same time, the number of unemployed people plunged to 174,700 from 228,600 despite a surge in COVID-19 cases brought on by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

“The state had to deal with renewed COVID challenges in January, resulting in slower but positive employment growth,” said Paul Turek, statewide economist for the Employment Security Department, in a statement on Tuesday.

Nationwide, the jobless rate dropped to 4 percent in January from 6.4 percent in January 2021, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.