The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently published March unemployment estimates through their Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program. These estimates, which are produced each month at the state, regional, county, and city levels, revealed several noteworthy insights.

As one of the first regions hit by COVID-19, the greater Seattle region saw the official unemployment rate jump 1.8 percentage points year-over-year from 3.6% in March of 2019 to 5.4% in March of 2020. Among MSAs with a population of more than 2 million, greater Seattle’s 1.8 percentage point increase registered as the fourth largest gain behind only Cleveland, Las Vegas, and Pittsburgh (at gains of 3.0, 2.4, and 1.9 points respectively). In some regions, such as Minneapolis and Portland, the response to COVID had seemingly yet to register in the numbers, with unemployment rates remaining the same over the prior year or, as in the case of Indianapolis, even showing a reduction of almost a full point.

Unemployment Rates by County

Within the region, the early stages of the COVID-19 response rippled through the labor market within uneven effects. In King County, unemployment jumped 2.4 percentage points, while in Snohomish County an even larger gain of 2.6 points was seen. Pierce County was the holdout, helping to moderate the region’s overall unemployment rate increase, registering a slight reduction of 0.8 points.

Throughout the state, and among the 39 counties, King and Snohomish were the only two counties to register year-over-year increases in the unemployment rate for March.

Unemployment Rates by City

In addition to the region and county, the LAUS program also publishes estimates for cities with more 25,000 inhabitants. In line with the overall trends at the county level, the cities of Lynnwood, Federal Way, and SeaTac experienced the largest unemployment rate gains, with each city increasing by 3.0 or more percentage points. On the other hand, Tacoma and Puyallup both showed decreases of more than 1.0 percentage point.

Based on initial unemployment claims data through the end of April published by the U.S. Department of Labor, expect the brunt of the initial unemployment surge throughout the state and the rest of the country to begin appearing in official unemployment estimates starting with the April LAUS release, due for full publication in early June.

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