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Washington recovers jobs lost in the pandemic, but it's not enough to meet current demand

Sara Chicad, via Flickr/Creative Common

State economic officials say Washington crested its pre-pandemic employment high in May 2022, but a Gonzaga economist says that means the state is essentially two years behind in job growth.

In late June, the Washington Economic and Revenue Forecast Council said the state recovered all the jobs lost in the pandemic. That mark was reached in May.

So why are you still seeing pleas for cashiers and cooks, and messages that services or hours are limited? Why do some local businesses and national chains alike say they’re having staffing issues?

Because some business sectors -- and even whole cities -- are playing catch-up to meet population growth and demand for services.

Ryan Herzog, an associate professor of economics at Gonzaga University, spoke about Washington's job recovery with Spokane Public Radio's Brandon Hollingsworth.

Herzog says getting back the number of jobs lost during the pandemic recession doesn’t mean they’ve all come back in the same places, or the same industries.

And the May employment figures that show Washington finally crested its pre-pandemic high mean just that: in terms of employment, we’re back where we were two years ago.

“In a normal kind of economic expansion, Spokane would typically add around 500 jobs a month," Herzog says. "So you multiply that over two years, you’re looking at 12,000 jobs that we are still short. But then throw in that kind of boomtown mentality that Spokane experiences, and it’s significantly more than that."

That, Herzog says, is why you’re still seeing help wanted signs and probably noticing local restaurants and stores are still seeing staffing shortages and service limitations.

Herzog says he thinks inflation may drive down some demand for those goods and services, meaning businesses may see less demand-driven stress in the next six to 12 months. That could relieve some of the pressure currently bearing on employers and staffers.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for fifteen years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.