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October 20, 2014 at 6:30 AM

Half a million jobs are coming to Washington. Are we ready for them?

Thinking about taking a class to learn coding? Now might be a good time.

Economists project that Washington will add about 500,000 more jobs by 2022 ­­­– reassuring news for a state that is one of the fastest growing population wise in the country.

It makes sense that as population grows, so do jobs in response as people will need more services.

But Washington’s tech economy is giving the entire state a boost. The fastest growing job in the past 10 years was software application developers, which jumped by a staggering 227 percent to more than 52,000 workers in 2014, according to the Employment Security Department.

Going forward, construction, an old-standby, will grow the fastest, adding about 54,300 or 39 percent more jobs to a total of 193,000 in 2022.

The circles represent projections for the largest and fastest growing job sectors in Washington state from 2012 to 2022. The darker the color, the faster the growth rate. Source: Washington Business Alliance.

The circles represent projections for the largest and fastest growing job sectors in Washington state from 2012 to 2022. The darker the color, the faster the growth rate. Source: Washington Business Alliance.

Other booming sectors include “professional and business services,” which encompasses software development and will reach 461,000 jobs, and “healthcare and education services” that will balloon to 476,700 jobs.

Overall, Washington non-agricultural jobs are expected to mushroom by 17.5 percent from 2012 to 2022. During the same period, the state’s population is projected to leap by about 750,000 or 11 percent more people to 7.56 million.

Check out more cool and interactive charts from the Washington Business Alliance.

That sounds great, but some elected officials, policymakers and workers worry that too many of those jobs will be low-wage jobs paying under $15 per hour. Indeed, sectors like retail and leisure and hospitality are also expected to add thousands of new jobs.

The concern echoes a broader trend of wages staying flat even as the total jobs increase. Washington should consider itself fortunate compared with other parts of the country, where the economic recovery hasn’t ushered in more jobs – just higher profits for companies.

I can see how someone in a minimum wage job would feel left behind when software developers see their six-figure wages growing. In 2014, the average annual income for software developers in Washington was around $113,000, while it was closer to $29,000 for retail salespeople.

Income disparities, however, are not the cause of problems as much as they are a symptom of other factors. The market rewards different jobs at different scales – that’s a reality.

What troubles me is when workers feel stuck in a particular job, or that students leave schools unprepared or unqualified for high wage jobs.

Preparing a qualified workforce is partly the state’s responsibility, but it’s also up to workers to position themselves for work or better-paying jobs. That means going after the right training or experience.

The rise of Washington’s economy and population should be an opportunity for the entire state and its workers.

Comments | Topics: employment, job growth, washington

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