Unemployment in Washington falls to lowest 4-week average since pandemic began; labor market remains challenging.

The state Employment Security Department reports that an improved economy has contributed to a decline in unemployment.

he 4-week moving average ending Oct. 30, 2021, compared to the 4-week moving average for the week ending Oct. 2, shows that regular continued claims decreased by 13,163 to a total of 50,848. This total is the lowest 4-week moving average for regular continued claims since the start of the pandemic.

The decrease is likely due to the improving economy and declining jobless claims as COVID-19 cases decrease. 

The same 4-week moving average for regular initial claims shows an increase of 412 to a total of 5,272. 

Though we’ve all watched the numbers over the past year-plus, this claims table from the report still startles.

Nearly 180,000 claims just over a year ago. The new plateau is close to the pre-pandemic numbers. Still, as Washington Hospitality Association CEO Anthony Anton tells the Puget Sound Business Journal, what we’re seeing is not the pre-Covid normal.

The old ways of hiring aren’t working for restaurants, hotels and other tourism businesses. Operators need to adapt.

Anton says,

“My message to the industry is we have the workforce we have,” Anton said earlier this month. “If you still don’t have the workers you need, how are you going to compete? How are you going to change your model?”

To compete in the current labor market, some are raising wages or adding sign-on bonuses. Others are cutting down on days or hours of operations.

Anton’s advice: Look to young people and technology. It’s critical, he said, for employers to show younger generations how they can climb the ladder and create a career in the industry.

The PSBJ reports,

But hospitality isn’t the only industry in need of workers. Restaurants and hotels must now compete with employers like Amazon looking for warehouse workers or shipping companies offering big bonuses for truck drivers.

“We have to be aware of what the market is around us,” Anton said. “You’re going to have look at where you are and who you’re competing with. Wages seem to be changing relatively quickly.”

Markets adapt. But the process can be wrenching.