I hope all of you are continuing to stay home, safe and healthy. All of us at WSW are doing the same while also staying incredibly busy on the front lines of this pandemic, working hard to keep businesses open, people employed, and for those that may have lost their job, connecting them to work, resources, and information as fast as we can.

We’ve also updated our website, expanding on a wide variety of resources available for businesses and individuals: https://workforcesw.org/covid-19. We will continue to distill information through this portion of our site as new resources become available. Please share far and wide!

As always, please reach out with any questions or if we can be of assistance.

Kevin Perkey
Chief Executive Officer

Response to Businesses

Layoff Aversion – March 16 was the date our phones lit up with calls from local businesses requesting assistance in choosing the best options for their workforce through unemployment insurance programming.

As we closed out week six on April 17, the calls had drastically reduced. No new companies reached out for assistance last week, but we were able to help many repeat business customers and their employees. The immediate challenges seem to be transitioning from businesses to their employees. As many of our business partners have chosen their path forward, now their employees struggle to navigate unemployment insurance programs. Our local Employment Security Department (ESD) staff have been immensely helpful in solving unemployment issues for residents of SW Washington who cannot get through to the unemployment claims center.

Hiring – The business team identified 31 companies in essential industries, including grocery, delivery and warehousing, that are hiring due to COVID-19. Open positions are advertised on our local WorkSource website. Job seekers are being directed to this site via WorkSource and social media to get directly connected to these opportunities.

The analogy we’ve been using since the onset of COVID-19 is “the house is on fire” to describe the sentiment of our business community. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been working with companies to help put the fire out – and it appears to be out. Now, we will be working to rebuild in the coming weeks and months. Here are some of the ways we are supporting the business community as they rebuild, and some of the ways that we need their help to inform our strategies:

  • On May 1, WSW participated in a virtual meeting for the Southwest Washington Contractors Association (SWCA) members to help them get back to work as they implement Governor Inslee’s Phase 1 Construction Restart COVID-19 Job Site Requirements. WSW provided guidance on what it means to bring back temporarily laid-off workers and some of the challenges that may come with this.
  • WSW distributed a survey this week to gather information from the business community to help inform our investments and strategies going forward. Early survey results indicate that most companies believe our On-the-Job Training program could help them rehire more workers faster. Please share your organization’s experience by completing a brief survey.
  • On May 5 WSW is launching a Workforce Development Recovery + Resiliency virtual conversation. The first one is to ensure the voice of business is prioritized as we coordinate our regional workforce development response and then with a different audience each Tuesday in May.

SW WA online job ads for the week starting April 20 increased to 337 from 277 last week. Order Fillers, Wholesale Retailers and Retail Sales were the top occupations being sought. Companies hiring in Southwest Washington include Amazon, Safeway, United Parcel Service and PeaceHealth.

Assistance for People

WorkSource and Next continue to provide services virtually to adults and youth and are assisting customers by phone, email and video meetings.

WorkSource – Our local WorkSource offices continue to be inundated with requests for information and assistance with unemployment insurance. Staff are working evenings and weekends to meet the demand and assist as many individuals as possible.

Other partners in the WorkSource centers are shifting their staff assignments to help create capacity and provide additional assistance for unemployment calls and workshops. It has been gratifying to see the cooperation from all parties and the genuine caring and desire to help people facing unemployment get the assistance they need.

Washington was the first state in the nation to launch all three of the major Unemployment Benefits provisions of the CARES Act for expanded eligibility, increased weekly benefits, and extended time for unemployment assistance.

The Employment Security Department (ESD) updated its systems Saturday, April 18 to accommodate the new provisions. Throughout this crisis, ESD’s website volume has been about 1-1.2M hits per day. On April 19, they saw that volume every two hours.

To help people avoid making mistakes when filing for unemployment, ESD launched a new help page on its website with tips and suggestions: https://esd.wa.gov/unemployment/help. WSW has compiled an Unemployment FAQ to answer some of the most frequent inquiries.

The Customer Appointments chart shows the number of people requesting services from WorkSource. The Services chart below that shows why they are reaching out.


Unemployment Insurance (UI) continues to be the largest source of customer questions and requests at more than half of all inquiries. Requests for UI assistance have nearly doubled from last week.

Services 4/20-4/24/2020

Workshops – “Interviewing” and “employment and training orientation” workshops showed slight increases in the number of participants over last week. However, “resume and cover letter preparation” fell by more than half from 56 last week to 19 this week and “marketing your skills and abilities” also saw a decrease in participants. Showing that people are being cautious and some might be in a holding pattern around pursuing job opportunities or training as they wait to hear from the government about reopening parts of the economy.

Next Youth Center – Staff continue to find creative ways to engage with and serve our community’s youth through social media, interactive and educational videos, and digital communications.

  • Staff is engaging the youth and talking about goals to keep them focused on the future.
  • Staff have created a new social media outreach plan and will be using quizzes and challenges as activities to keep the youth engaged.
  • Some youth are using this time to build skills (one is learning French).
  • The team is increasing outreach to youth to ensure their needs are being met after discovering some are hesitant to proactively reach out and seek assistance, even when they’re in need.
  • A handful of youth requested information about the new Immigration order that went into effect April 23 and will last for 60 days.
  • Staff will be outreaching to school counselors to ensure they are aware that Next is operating and serving youth.

System priorities

  • WSW is launching a Recovery + Resiliency series of conversations to identify and prioritize needs as we coordinate our regional workforce development response. We will share recent economic data, our strategic response, and look for feedback to guide our efforts. Zoom calls will be held:
  • While many services have been moved online and training, learning and meeting are taking place virtually, not everyone has access to computers and the internet. To improve access and equity for our community, WSW is:
    • Partnering with Comcast Essentials and the Community Foundation for SW WA to provide six months of free internet access to 200 families.
    • Partnering with Edge Networks to give 30 Chromebooks to families in need in Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties. We are partnering with WSUV extension, Wahkiakum High School, and WorkSource to identify the families.

Unemployment Claims

According to the WA State Employment Security Department (ESD), during the week of April 19-25, 1,455,908 total claims for unemployment benefits were filed.

Unemployment claims for the week of April 19-25
Regular Unemployment Insurance (UI) initial claims 137,605
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) initial claims 190,948
Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) initial claims 168,165
Continued/ongoing weekly claims 959,190
Total claims 1,455,908

Initial claims for regular unemployment benefits increased by 67 percent, and total initial claims increased by 453.3 percent over the previous week. An average of 1.5 initial claims were filed per person for Unemployment (UI), Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). This was the first week that initial PUA claims could be filed by individuals such as self-employed workers and independent contractors, and initial PUEC claims for extended benefits were able to be filed.

Eight-week summary of statewide initial claims filed since the start of the COVID-19 crisis
(provided by the WA State Employment Security Department)

Since the week ending March 14, our three SW WA counties have seen 50,036 total initial claims for unemployment insurance (UI).

During the week of April 19-25:

  • Clark County: Initial claims filed increased from 3,707 to 6,292 up 70 percent from the week before.
  • Cowlitz County: Initial claims increased 62 percent to 1,457 up from 899 the prior week
  • Wahkiakum County: Initial claims increased 131 percent to 51 claims up from 22 last week

SW WA Claimants by Industry March 9 – April 25

Clark County: top claimants by industry include healthcare, retail trade, accommodation and food services, and construction

Cowlitz County: top claimants by industry were healthcare, accommodation and food services, construction

Wahkiakum County: claimants by industry were not disclosed

Washington State Claimants by Industry

Industry sectors experiencing the highest number of initial claims during April 19-25 were:

  • Healthcare and social assistance: 11,061 initial claims, up 1,927 initial claims from the previous week
  • Retail trade: 10,397 initial claims, up 912 initial claims from the previous week
  • Accommodation and food services: 10,049 initial claims, up 2,381 initial claims from the previous week
  • Construction: 6,047 initial claims, down 695 initial claims from the previous week
  • Manufacturing: 6,045 initial claims, down 2,290 initial claims from the previous week

SW WA UI demographic data

Demographics of residents in Clark, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties filing claims for unemployment from March 8 through April 4 shows:

  • Gender – Each of our three counties has a higher percentage of females out of work than males. However, the state total has more males unemployed than females.
  • Age – the largest percentage of unemployed individuals in our three counties and in the state are ages 25-34 at 23 percent, followed by ages 35-44 at 17 percent.
  • Education – In Southwest Washington, 70.8 percent of the unemployed do not hold a college degree. Most (34.6 percent) have a high school diploma or GED and 28.7 percent have some college. In comparison, the percentage of those with a college degree that are unemployed is 26.6 percent. The higher percentage of unemployed not having a college degree is mirrored in the state’s totals.

Click here to view a PDF of the 4.30.20 report.

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