Washington's job market continues to struggle against pandemic-related losses and closures, with some of the sharpest pain coming in the hospitality and travel sectors.
New jobless claims among hotel and restaurant workers jumped 17% last week compared to the prior week, or nearly three times the increase in jobless claims generally, the state Employment Security Department (ESD) reported Thursday.
Restaurants continue to close. On Thursday, Seattle icon Ivar's announced it would shutter its Acres of Clams and Salmon House full-service restaurants until spring.
And while Gov. Jay Inslee lifted some restrictions on meetings and business events, effective Sept. 21, the broader travel and hospitality sectors are a long away from recovery, with many hotels reeling from massive vacancies and low revenues.
The hospitality sector was "one of the hardest-hit industries in the pandemic," said Jacque Coe, a spokesperson for the Washington State Hospitality Association. "And without changes in the current restrictions to allow them to open safely, we're going to lose some of them."
More broadly, the state's job market still suffers strong economic headwinds from the pandemic.
Last week, Washingtonians filed 19,574 new, or initial, claims for unemployment benefits, a 6.4% increase from the week before, ESD reported Thursday. That's nearly four times the number of layoffs during the same week last year. The state's unemployment rate was 8.5% as of August.
The new claims report reflects the unevenness of the state's economic recovery. Some sectors, such as tech, have bounced back much faster than others, notably those that depended on in-person transactions -- including food service, accommodation and travel.
In downtown Seattle, hotels have seen revenue fall by roughly 90% over their 2019 levels through most of the pandemic, according to the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA).
And according to analytics firm Trepp, the Greater Seattle area had the eighth highest number of delinquent securitized commercial hotel loans, at 16, worth $378 million, according to an August report.
Nationally, the level of such commercial hotel loans that are 30 days or more delinquent is more than 50% higher than during the Great Recession, Trepp said.
That bleak assessment comes amid a week of mixed news about the state economy.
On the positive side: the state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council on Wednesday released a better-than-expected state revenue forecast. Among other encouraging points: the state expects slightly lower unemployment in the last quarter of 2020 than it had forecast in June -- 8% versus 9.3% -- thanks partly to surprisingly strong consumer spending.
But the council noted that much of that spending was driven by federal stimulus programs, such as forgivable small-business loans and $600-a-week unemployment benefits, which have diminished or ended in recent months.
"Stimulus money helped prevent the worst-case scenario for state tax revenues -- and counties and cities," said economist James McCafferty, a director at the Center for Economic and Business Research at Western Washington University. "But there is not more of that on the horizon that seems likely."
Indeed, with prospects fading for a timely extension of federal aid by Congress, there are concerns that consumer spending could fall off. That would be particularly hard on travel and hospitality companies, many of which have barely hung on this summer and now face uncertainties if cold weather brings new COVID-19 cases and renewed government restrictions.
In meantime, those sectors continued to shed jobs. Amtrak's Seattle operations will lay off 143 workers, though all but two are temporary starting Sept. 30, according to filings with the ESD. That's part of approximately 2,000 layoffs nationwide, according to media reports.
Hyatt Regency Bellevue, which had temporarily laid off 223 workers in March, made 148 of those permanent on Sept. 18, according to company filings with ESD.
The governor's new directive, which allows meetings and business events of up to 200 guests or 30% of a facility's capacity, whichever is less, not counting venue staff, will help the sector. The easing, which was pushed for by the Washington Meeting and Convention Coalition, comes amid increased demand for events.
But a full recovery will be a lengthy process. Since the start of the pandemic, the lodging sector alone has lost 28,640 jobs, according to the Washington State Hospitality Association.
Last week alone, hotel and restaurant workers filed 2,216 initial claims.
Although 14 of 29 downtown hotels that had closed are now open, according to DSA figures, many hotel properties face new financial risks.
The Washington State Convention Center reported cancellations of 45 future citywide events, representing $333.1 million in lost sales and other economic benefits, the DSA reported.
The cancellation of the cruise season resulted in a $900 million economic hit and 5,500 lost jobs, the DSA said.
Other sectors also saw sharp increases in jobless claims last week. Construction workers filed 2,866 claims, which was up nearly 63% from the prior week.
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