WENATCHEE — The labor force in Chelan and Douglas counties increased by over 1,000 people from 65,208 in February to 66,289 in March. The labor force has also increased when compared to March 2020.
“We’re back to the pre-COVID days with people returning to the labor force,” said Don Meseck, a state regional labor economist. “So that’s a good sign.”
The labor force was 1,532 higher in March than in March 2020, representing a 2.4% increase. In total, the two counties had an unemployment rate of 5.6% in March, down from a 6.1% rate in February.
The figures come from Meseck’s Labor Area Summary for March for the Wenatchee Metropolitan Statistical Area, released Wednesday. The area is a combination of Chelan and Douglas counties.
“I think that this trend will continue,” Meseck said. “I think that this declining rate will probably continue.”
The number of unemployed residents fell from 3,991 in February to 3,702 in March.
Non-farm employment, which stands at 46,400, is also above March 2020 and March 2021.
“That indicates to me that our labor force is expanding, our non-farm employment is expanding, and we’re getting back to the pre-COVID days,” Meseck.
Employment numbers are positive when broken down by category. Every category but two saw growth between February and March except for manufacturing and employment by the federal government, which remained steady.
“It just reflects the fact that the job market is getting stronger,” Meseck said. “Virtually every major industry was either stable or added jobs over the year. That’s a good sign.”
The trade, transportation, warehousing, and utility sectors saw the biggest bump between February and March, adding 300 jobs for 10,000.
Chelan and Douglas counties’ recovery from a pandemic that spiked unemployment is still ahead of nearby areas, including the Yakima area.
“Our recovery in 2021 has been considerably more rapid than Yakima County. Us, here, having a 5.3% non-farm job growth rate in 2021 and Yakima having a 2.5%,” Meseck said. “2020 might have been a little worse for us, but 2021 was considerably better. We’ve recovered more rapidly, at least compared to Yakima County.”
The two counties’ 5 % employment growth rate between March 2021 and March 2022 was slightly lower than the 5.3% rate the state recorded over the same period. However, the Wenatchee MSA had outperformed Washington over the preceding 12 months.
“It’s still, I’d say, relatively good news,” Meseck said. “Those are still good growth rates.”
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