Payroll employment declines, unemployment rate jumps in December

OLYMPIA – Washington’s economy lost 9,900 jobs in December and the state’s preliminary seasonally adjusted monthly unemployment rate increased from 5.7 percent in November (revised) to 7.1 percent in December according to the Employment Security Department (ESD).

MonthTotal Jobs (losses or gains)Unemployment rate2019 Unemployment Rate
March 2020–  27,9005.1 percent4.5 percent
April 2020– 259,500*16.3 percent*4.4 percent
May 2020– 44,900*15.1 percent4.4 percent
June 2020+ 53,100*10.0 percent*4.3 percent
July 2020+ 62,400 10.2 percent*4.2 percent
August 2020+ 50,100*  8.4 percent*4.2 percent
September 2020+ 9,300  8.3 percent*4.1 percent
October 2020+1,300*  6.0 percent*4.0 percent
November 2020+23,200*  5.7 percent*3.6 percent
December 2020-9,900  7.1 percent3.6 percent

*Revised from previous preliminary estimates. Preliminary monthly estimates for jobs losses or gains are based on a small Bureau of Labor Statistics payroll survey while actual figures reported the following month are based on a more complete survey.

“The renewed efforts taken to contain the spread of COVID deeply impacted industries that provide high-contact services,” said Paul Turek, economist for the department. “Nowhere is that more apparent than in leisure and hospitality. Beyond that, employment in other industries is mostly holding up better.”

ESD released the preliminary job estimates from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics as part of its Monthly Employment Report.

The department also announced that November’s previously reported unemployment rate of 6.0 percent was revised downward to 5.7 percent. November’s preliminary estimated gain of 100 jobs was revised to a gain of 23,200 jobs.

The national unemployment rate remained constant at 6.7 percent from November to December 2020. In December 2019, the national unemployment rate (revised) was 3.6 percent.

ESD paid unemployment insurance benefits to 434,740 people in December, an increase of 31,449 over the previous month.

State labor force grows with unemployed workers

The state’s labor force in December was 3,864,700– an increase of 46,300 people from the previous month. In the Seattle/Bellevue/Everett region, the labor force increased by 42,600 over the same period.

From December 2019 through December 2020, the state’s labor force decreased by 80,700 and the Seattle/Bellevue/Everett region decreased by 8,100.

The labor force is the total number of people, both employed and unemployed, over the age of 16.

From November 2020 – December 2020, the number of people who were unemployed statewide increased from 219,200 to 272,500. In the Seattle/Bellevue/Everett region, the number of people who were unemployed increased from 77,200 to 122,200 over the same period.

Seven industry sectors expanded and six sectors contracted in December

Private sector employment decreased 10,600 jobs while government employment increased by 700 jobs. Provided below is a summary of the job gains and losses in all thirteen industry sectors.

 Industry sector                                         Job gains/losses

Professional & business services+    8,900
Retail trade+    4,800
Transportation, warehousing and utilities+    1,200
Government+       700
Financial activities+       500
Construction+       400
Information+      200
Mining and logging–        100
Wholesale trade–        500
Other services–     1,200
Manufacturing–     1,700
Education and health services–     2,500
Leisure & hospitality–   20,600

The leisure and hospitality industry continues to be hardest hit with payroll job losses year-over-year

Washington lost an estimated 189,300 jobs from December 2019 through December 2020, not seasonally adjusted. Private sector employment fell by 5.0 percent, down an estimated 147,100 jobs, while public sector employment fell by 7.1 percent with a net loss of 41,900 jobs.

From December 2019 through December 2020, eight major industry sectors contracted while five industry sectors expanded.

The three industry sectors with the largest employment losses year-over-year, not seasonally adjusted, were:

  • Leisure and hospitality down 97,900 jobs
  • Government down 41,900 jobs
  • Manufacturing down 26,700 jobs

Labor market information

Check it out! ESD has new labor market information and tools, including interactive Tableau graphics to highlight popular information and data.


Employment Security is a proud partner in the statewide WorkSource system, which provides employment and training assistance to job seekers and businesses. While WorkSource centers are closed for in-person services during the COVID-19 outbreak, customers can still get help from WorkSource staff by phone and through the Live Chat feature on The website provides access to thousands of Washington jobs and other employment resources. Chat agents cannot answer unemployment benefit questions.

Note: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently updated its “alternative measures of labor underutilization” for states to include annual averages for first quarter 2020. One such alternative measure is the U-6 rate, which considers not only the unemployed population in the official “U-3” unemployment rate, but also marginally attached workers and those employed part time for economic reasons. The U-6 rate is defined by BLS as the “total unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers.” This U-6 measure measures the “unemployed, underemployed, and those who are not looking but who want a job.”

The U-6 unemployment rate for the third quarter 2020 for Washington state was 13.0 percent. This was higher compared to the 10.9 percent U-6 unemployment rate second quarter prior. The annual U.S. U-6 unemployment rate was 12.3 percent in third quarter 2020.


Labor market information questions regarding COVID-19

For workers or businesses affected by the current COVID-19 outbreak, the Employment Security Department (ESD) has programs that may be able to help. Please see ESD’s website for more information

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