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Bouncing back: Adams County unemployment down, but labor force is smaller

Staff Writer | November 24, 2021 1:00 AM

OTHELLO — In some ways, Adams County’s economy is starting to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s uneven.

The unemployment rate dropped between September 2020 and September 2021, but the overall labor force has shrunk since 2019.

Adams County unemployment was 3.1% in September 2021, compared to 5.4% in September 2020, and 4.1% in August. Don Meseck, regional labor economist with the Washington State Employment Security Department, wrote in a report the drop reflected a substantial increase in the number of people working.

“The number of unemployed plunged by 41% as 215 fewer Adams County residents were out of work this September than in September 2020,” Meseck wrote.

But the county’s labor force is smaller than it was in 2019. The number of people in the labor force shrank by 7.1% between September 2019 and September 2021.

“A shrinking labor force is seldom considered good economic news,” Meseck wrote.

The private education and health services sector and manufacturing sector led the way in reducing unemployment, Meseck wrote.

The county’s health services and education sector has been expanding, when measured year over year, for the last three years.

“This local industry grew by 40 jobs in 2018, by 40 jobs in 2019 and by 60 jobs in 2020,” Meseck wrote. “This last ‘growth spurt’ is particularly interesting since most other industries lost jobs due to COVID-19-related layoffs in 2020.”

The health services and education sector has been adding jobs, measured year over year, since October 2017, he wrote.

The manufacturing sector also added jobs. About 90% of manufacturing jobs in Adams County are in food processing.

Meseck wrote that manufacturing sector employment has been going up in each of the last five months, May to September. The number of manufacturing jobs in the county, measured year over year, rose by 80 from September 2020 to September 2021.

But the transportation, warehousing and utilities sector, which had been strong in 2020, has been losing jobs, year over year, from June to September 2021. Meseck estimated the sector lost 40 jobs from September 2020 to September 2021.

That sector encompasses truck transportation, warehousing and storage, and support services for transportation.

The leisure and hospitality sector added jobs, when measured year over year, and so did the construction sector. The number of jobs in retail trade remained the same, measured year over year.

The county’s agricultural sector also grew, adding 1,487 jobs from September 2020 to September 2021.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at


Cheryl Schweizer/Columbia Basin Herald

Recruitment signs outside the McCain Foods facility in Othello.