Issue 3 | April 28, 2020
Stronger Together Spokane:
Workforce System Response to COVID-19
We have now recorded over 45,000 people applying for first-time unemployment benefits over the past five weeks in Spokane county. Almost every industry has been significantly impacted, and workers and businesses have had to chart a new course, sometimes tapping into the myriad of local, state, and federal resources to help make it through this challenging time. We know we have a ways yet to go, but there are some bright spots appearing as efforts to social distance achieve results, and plans for a phased-in return to work for various industries, including construction, are being worked on at the state and local levels.

Our workforce system is paying close attention to our regional economy and offers a range of services designed to meet the needs of young people and adults experiencing layoffs, and to our many small businesses having to temporarily close or change how they do business. We are also watching for where growth is happening and providing a connection to new jobs and training to prepare people for their next opportunity. We will continue to meet this crisis head-on and are looking forward to taking the next steps in our economic recovery.

We are Stronger Together Spokane.

Mark Mattke
Chief Executive Officer
Labor Market and Service Delivery Updates
Initial claims for unemployment insurance dropped to 5,069 new claims in the week ending April 18. This brings the prior five-week total initial claims to 45,736 for Spokane County. Although initial claims for unemployment insurance have decreased for three straight weeks from the all-time high level observed during the week ending March 28, new emergency unemployment rules as part of the federal CARES Act were implemented on April 18 in the Washington State unemployment filing system. These new rules allow gig, 1099, and other non-traditional workers who were previously unable to file for unemployment to make a claim. We anticipate that the number of initial claims for the week ending April 25 will increase substantially with the new rules in place.
Spokane County Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims
WorkSource Spokane has recognized that the number one issue facing our customers over the last month has been connected to unemployment insurance benefits. The UI system has struggled to keep up with demand, and many customers have experienced lengthy wait times or the inability to get through on the phone lines. Although WorkSource Spokane does not provide UI benefits, twenty staff members have volunteered to pivot their job duties to assist the Employment Security Department with UI claims support. We now have staff members supporting the 1-833 UI call line, answering live chat questions on the website, taking Advanced UI Claims support training, and providing data entry support for the expanded UI benefits under the CARES Act. Thank you WorkSource team for stepping up to help wherever needed during this unprecedented crisis!
"You all have been lifesavers. Thank you for assisting with potential job opportunities, UI assistance and for providing information on how I can receive food for my family and pets. Anthony was especially helpful in navigating my rent payments and providing me various options such as gas."

- Chris, WorkSource and Spokane Resource Center Custome r
Claims by Industry
As shown above, the industries that have been hardest hit during this crisis are Accommodation and Food Service, Health Care and Social Assistance, Retail Trade, and Construction. In addition to responding to requests from local businesses as they come in, t he Talent Solutions Team has been actively reaching out to businesses in these hard-hit industries to find out what supports are needed as well as to gather information about what the future of work may look like for those industries. So much is still unknown, but we are working to stay in front of needs and trends to help plan how our team can continue to support businesses in the "new normal," whatever that may look like.

Some of the top issues facing businesses include:
  • How to adapt to providing services online and utilizing tele-work for businesses that have not previously made those transitions.
  • New ways to stay connected with customers, including new social media tools.
  • Alternative resources and/or creative ideas about how to stay open in lieu of government aid, which has either been delayed or exhausted in many cases.
  • How to improve recruiting and training to be more employee-friendly, especially as some businesses face employees not wanting to return to lower-wage work due to expanded unemployment benefits.
The demographic profile of those most affected by COVID-19-related layoffs between March 8 and April 4 have begun to emerge, and we are taking a close look at those data to determine how our system can serve those most in need.

Neither gender nor race appear to have disproportionate affects on unemployment in Spokane County. From March 8 to April 4, claims for males and females have been almost identical, with 18,462 initial claims by males, 18,396 initial claims by females, and 77 claims by those who identify as non-binary. Over the same time period, initial unemployment claims by race largely reflected the racial makeup of our area and were as follows:
  • African American (2%)
  • American Indian (1%)
  • Asian (3%)
  • Pacific Islander (1%)
  • Caucasian (79%)
  • Two or more races (3%)
  • Latino/Hispanic (6%)
  • Unknown (5%)

Where demographic disparities begin to present themselves is in looking at unemployment by age and by educational attainment. Observing the period from March 8 through April 4, younger workers make up an over-sized proportion of those who have recently filed for unemployment relative to their proportion in the overall labor force. Initial unemployment claims by highest educational attainment indicate that those with a high school diploma make up the largest group who have filed for unemployment, followed by those with Some college, no degree. 
UI claims by Age
Unemployment Claims by Educational Attainment
For the first time ever, we are facing a high proportion of young adults facing unemployment due to layoff. The Next Generation Zone is working on strategies to serve these newly disconnected young people in our community by making them aware of the career, training, and education services available through the center. Strategies include an outreach campaign through the UI mailing list and social media to reach these young adults, as well as new funding to bring programming specifically designed to serve those who have lost their jobs through layoffs into the center.
Weekly new Online Job Postings
New weekly online job postings increased slightly in the week ending April 25 from the prior week. This total remains sharply down from weekly totals observed before the COVID-19 impact. In addition, the impacts of the virus are visible in the types of companies posting the most jobs this past week and are almost exclusively in the essential businesses category:
  • Instacart (20 new online job postings)
  • Washington State University (18)
  • Washington Department of Health (11)
  • Providence Health and Services (11)
  • Walmart (10)

Data Sources: Washington State Employment Security Department/LMEA and Burning Glass Labor Insights
WorkSource Campus Operations Planning
As we near the end of the "Stay Home - Stay Healthy" order, WorkSource campus leadership has been meeting to plan out what a return to in-person operations will look like. The safety of our staff members and customers are top priority as we plan. However, recognizing that many customers, specifically at the Spokane Resource Center , do not have access to computers or other technology to help them access our virtual services, we want to begin providing in-person services as soon as it is safe to do so. We anticipate beginning in-person services by appointment and keeping social distancing protocols in place. Of course, any plans for re-opening are also contingent upon the guidelines set forth by our Governor, Mayor, and health care authorities. Regardless of what the future holds, we will continue to offer virtual services and take advantage of the infrastructure that has been put into place to allow customers to access services remotely.
Working With our Partners to Make Spokane Stronger, Together
Hiring Events: The Talent Solutions team has continued to research virtual hiring options, and is now planning a pilot hiring event to test the virtual job fair platform Brazen. The Spokane Workforce Council and the Employment Security Department are partnering with the Talent Solutions team to bring this pilot event to our community. The event will be held on May 21, the original date of the WorkSource/KHQ job fair. Businesses who are interested in participating, please reach out to the Talent Solutions team at or 509.532.3186.