New Department of Commerce Data Tool Reveals Racial Disparities in State Unemployment

by Elizabeth Turnbull


On Monday, the Washington State Department of Commerce revealed an Economic Recovery Dashboard tool that details COVID-19’s impact on the state’s economy and reveals that certain communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by the economic repercussions of the virus. 

As of July, Washington’s overall unemployment rate stood at 10.2%. For People of Color, the rates were worse. From mid-April to late-August, 16% of Pacific Islander workers had filed continued unemployment insurance (UI) claims; for African Americans workers, this rate was 10.2%. 

Between 6 and 7% percent of Native American, Asian, Hispanic/Latino and white workers also filed continued unemployment insurance claims over the summer. 

In early May, the period when the most continued UI claims were filed, this racial disparity in filing was even more pronounced. In the beginning of May, over 28% of Pacific Islander workers had filed continued UI claims in Washington. The rate was 15.7% for Native American workers and 15.1% for African Americans.

Ultimately, the dashboard aims to use data from public and private organizations, which will be updated monthly, to illuminate the evolution of the state’s economy as it recovers from the virus.

Overall, Washington’s employment decline is still 30% greater than the lowest point in the Great Recession, which was a decade ago, and despite construction recovering 80% of lost jobs as of June, the leisure and hospitality industry remains the hardest hit of all industries as it has only recovered one-third of job losses, according to a Department of Commerce Statement

At a press conference unveiling the dashboard on Sept. 21, Washington Commerce Director, Dr. Lisa Brown, acknowledged that economic recovery is going to be a process, and she believes it could be three or four years before economic activity returns to pre-COVID-19 levels. 

“The economic impact of COVID-19 on individuals, families, and businesses is like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” Brown said in a statement. “The depth and complexity of the challenge we’re dealing with demands that we use data in new ways to help every family, every community, and every industry get back on their feet, stronger and more resilient than before.”


Elizabeth Turnbull is a Seattle-based reporter.

Featured image is attributed to Bytemarks under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.