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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

December 16, 2010 at 9:50 AM

A worrying employment trend hits Washington state

I was on KUOW’s Weekday on Wednesday, discussing the economy with Michael Parks, editor emeritus of Marples Northwest Business Letter, when Mike made an arresting point. The “real” unemployment rate for Washington state, which includes discouraged workers and part-timers who want full-time jobs, is about 18.1 percent on a 12-month moving average through September.

That’s not just above the narrower, “official” rate of 9.2 percent in November — it’s above the real national rate, which has been around 16 percent and 17 percent. Add to that the 100 jobs created statewide in November — “Job growth is in a holding pattern,” was the artful spin of Employment Security Commissioner Paul Trause.

One hundred net jobs in the second most populous populous state in the West would only be a “holding pattern” if the normal growth of the labor force has slowed drastically — then we have an entirely different problem. Arizona, slightly less populous but clobbered by the real-estate crash, gained 12,800 jobs.

The situation in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metro area is similarly sobering. The latest Metro Monitor report by the Brookings Institution shows we ranked 66th out of 100 metros in quarterly employment growth. The later arrival of the housing crash is evident in our ranking in house prices (89) and bank-owned properties (85) in the latest quarterly change.

I’ve maintained that Washington and Seattle are better poised for recovery than most states. (The caveat being that this “recovery” nationally is very weak). Indeed, Seattle’s gross metro product ranks 8th nationally in rebounding toward its previous peak. And Washington’s employment situation is better than many states. But nearly 323,000 Washingtonians are “officially” unemployed; the underemployed is far higher. This situation will only be made worse with state budget cuts.

About the best an optimist could say is that the “recovery” is uneven. But if this “holding pattern” in job creation persists, we’ll get dangerously close to stall speed.

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Corporate welfare queens

Make out: we get something, too:

Debt with the Chinese

Comments | More in Jobs/Unemployment, Ports of Seattle and Tacoma

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