Spokane Journal of Business

Young workers in Spokane hit hardest by job losses

25-34 age group files greatest percentage of pandemic-related claims here, data show

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With seven months of employment data in the books since the spread of COVID-19 to the U.S., a somewhat clearer picture of the region’s jobs scene has emerged.

Based on the three types of unemployment insurance benefits currently available to Washington state workers, those between the ages of 25 to 34 in Spokane County have been the most impacted by the pandemic. Spokane-area economists say that’s due to the fact that age bracket constitutes the largest percentage of those sectors who have been affected the most by the pandemic’s presence.

And they still say there’s a long way to go when it comes to being able to determine Spokane County’s workforce outlook for both the short and long term.

“With this pandemic, we just didn’t know what to expect,” says Doug Tweedy, a regional economist with the Spokane office of the Washington state Employment Security Department. “We’re at least starting to get a clearer picture.”

Spokane County had an average of 225,792 workers employed each quarter of 2019. The largest segment constituted those in the 25-34 age range, which made up an average of 51,300, or 23%, workers per quarter, according to ESD statistics.

Regular continued claims are in the category of traditional unemployment insurance, which allows a person to collect benefits up to 26 weeks.

And not coincidentally, of the 8,700 regular, continued unemployment claims filed through the week of Oct. 10, nearly 2,300, or 26%, were filed by those between 25 and 34, ESD statistics show.

Unemployment benefits are calculated based on wages from an individual’s base year, which is the first four of the last five calendar quarters, according to Mike McBride, a business and industry analyst for the Spokane Workforce Council.

But totaling two other unemployment benefit classifications specifically earmarked for pandemic-related assistance, again, the 25 to 34 age group leads the way in the highest number of claims filed, according to ESD statistics.

One of those classifications is Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, an emergency program established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act for “gig workers,” McBride says. 

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance temporarily expands eligibility for unemployment benefits to include self-employed workers, freelancers, independent contractors, and part-time workers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, he says.

The other special classification, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, also established by the CARES Act, extends unemployment benefits an extra 13 weeks to those who have exhausted their regular unemployment benefits. This form of benefit is scheduled to expire Dec. 26.

Among the 5,716 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims filed in Spokane County ending the week of Oct. 17, workers between the ages of 35 to 44 only slightly edged out their 25 to 34 counterparts by a margin less than 100, with 1,381 and 1,291 claims, respectively, or 24.2% and 22.6% of the total, according to ESD data.

As for the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, of the 4,004 claims ending the week of Oct. 17, people ages 25 to 34 filed 1,095 claims, or 27.3% of the total. That compares to 862, or 21.5%, filed by the next highest group of those 35 to 44, say ESD statistics.

“Clearly it’s a function of closures or reductions in staff by the bars, food services, hotels, and motels,” Tweedy says. “And the unfortunate thing is that those industries are slow in coming back.”

What economists and employers have seen, however, are young workers making wholesale changes into other industries, he says.

“They’ve moved into transportation, warehousing, and information technology,” he says. “We still don’t have a lot of data to go on, but anecdotally, we’re hearing a lot about that age group moving into computer communications. That’s a transition that’s in their sweet spot.”

Grant Forsyth, chief economist for Spokane-based Avista Corp., says extensive research suggests young workers heavily impacted during economic upheavals often aren’t able to recoup lost dollars.

“It can be a potential permanent decline in their overall lifetime income at the point of involuntary separation,” he says. “It can take a long time to recover from lost wages.”

Overall, Tweedy says about 60% of all workers laid off during the initial surge of the pandemic in Spokane County have returned to work.

“Those regular (unemployment) claims have continually decreased since mid-May,” Tweedy says. “But it’s the pandemic programs where we’re only seeing small decreases.”

Almost 10% (541) of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims were from people 65 and over. Meanwhile, almost 9% (354) of the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation claims were from those 65 and over. Regular continued claims from those age 65 and over made up 7.1% (618) of total claims, statistics show.

With about 24% of Spokane County’s total workforce 55 and over, Tweedy says many who were near or at retirement age chose to retire as they are among the groups at the highest risk of contracting the virus.

Laid off workers between 55 to 64 made up the third-highest category of regular continued claims at 1,509, or 17% of the total, and those 45 to 54 totaled 1,493, or 17.2%, according to ESD statistics.

Moving forward, Avista’s Forsyth predicts the pandemic will leave some permanent changes on the American workplace in a variety of sectors.

“We’ve discovered that employees can work effectively at home,” he says. “Even inside a production plant, there are certain jobs where you don’t have to be on site. I think working from home is going to be a permanent impression moving forward.”

Forsyth says labor laws regarding at-home workplaces might have to evolve sooner than later.

“What happens if you get hurt while working from home?” he asks.

And, says Forsyth, there might be future tax implications for both employers and employees when workers are set up at home.

“I have a hard time seeing us flip a switch and going back to the way things were before the pandemic,” he says.

Kevin Blocker
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