Nearly four years after the end of the recession, King County unemployment hit 4.4 percent in April. That’s a level economists would traditionally consider full employment. That’s down from an average of 8.6 percent in 2009. It doesn’t mean there’s no suffering here due to job losses, but it’s an important milestone nonetheless, especially when nationally 11 million are officially unemployed and the unemployment rate was 7.5 percent in April. It’s an outlier in Washington, too: Pierce County’s jobless rate was 8.1 percent; Gray’s Harbor, 12.1 percent; Snohomish County did better at 4.9 percent.
The reasons are many: The Seattle area’s diverse economy; the Amazon.com boom; a construction boom; infrastructure work, especially on the Alaskan Way tunnel and light-rail; continued strength in the IT and software sectors; trade, and Boeing (whose cutbacks haven’t yet been felt, and many of whose Everett workers live in King County). We were less slammed by residential overbuilding. Another plus, aside from the Washington Mutual calamity, Seattle went into the recession strong, with companies enjoying strong balance sheets and potent assets such as our world-class clusters. Metros that entered the downturn weak, or dependent on housing, did the worst in the aftermath.
In the big divergence of recovery, Seattle is definitely on the winning side. Oklahoma City, a big energy center, turned in 4.6 percent in April. On the other side, April unemployment was 9.9 percent in Los Angeles; 9.6 percent in Miami; 9.4 percent in Chicago; 9.5 percent in Detroit; 8.4 percent in New York City, and 9.8 percent in Las Vegas. We shouldn’t assume our good fortune is the norm.
In a separate report, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that employment increased 2.4 percent in King County from September 2011 to September 2012, compared with the national rate of 1.6 percent. King County’s average weekly wage rose 2.3 percent vs. a 1.1 percent average decrease nationally. King County turned in an average weekly wage of $1,354, the highest in the state. Okanogan County in north-central Washington, with an average weekly wage of $482, was lowest in the state.
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Today’s Econ Haiku:
QE could slow down
Bernanke won’t tip his hand
It will trip the bulls