Clark County gains 300 jobs in May

Regional economist warns the upward trend remains slight

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

Published:

Updated: June 21, 2011, 5:09 PM

 

Clark County’s economy gained in May, with payrolls expanding by 300 jobs from the same period a year ago, the state Employment Security Department reported Tuesday.

Total county employment was an estimated 127,700 in May — 900 more jobs than in April, although most of those gains reflect seasonal factors, said Scott Bailey, regional labor market economist with the Employment Security Department.

Tuesday’s report suggests “a slight upward trend in job growth,” Bailey said. In fact, since February 2010, Clark County employment has grown at an annualized rate of 0.8 percent, according to Bailey’s “Southwest Washington Labor Market News” report.

That’s no reason to break out the party hats. However, it does represent some positive news for a county that lost more than 10,000 of its jobs from 2008 to 2011, or roughly 7 percent of the county’s non-farm job base.

While Clark County’s economy is no longer bouncing along the bottom, Bailey said, “we’re not far from the bottom.”

Citing University of Oregon economics professor Mark Thoma, Bailey’s labor market report also raises the possibility of another national economic recession. Bailey summarizes Thoma’s analysis, noting that “with policy makers focusing on the deficit and inflation, the chances of sending the economy into another recession via a policy error — similar to what happened in 1937 — are growing .

At that time, the U.S. was in a strong recovery from the Great Depression. Congress, worried about debt, cut the budget deficit. The Federal Reserve Bank, worried about inflation, raised interest rates. The economy then went into a severe recession.”

Jobless rate to be revised

Since May 2010, Clark County’s big three job generators have been finance (up 200 jobs), professional and business services (up 900 jobs) and health care (up 300 jobs).

That doesn’t come as a surprise to Louisa Waldman, Portland-based regional vice president for Robert Half International, a global staffing firm specializing in accounting, finance and information technology.

For example, companies in the finance sector, where the unemployment rate is as low as 5 percent nationally, are looking to hire for such positions as financial analysts and accountants, sometimes on a temporary or contract basis until permanent hires are made, Waldman said. “Those are definitely positions we’re seeing an uptick in and need for.”

Significant trouble spots for Clark County’s economy are construction (down 300 jobs from May 2010) and local government jobs (down 600 jobs from May 2010). Those, Bailey wrote in his report, “continue to be a drag.”

Clark County’s initial jobless rate for May was 9.8 percent. However, that rate is expected to be revised upward when unemployment claims of county residents who worked in Oregon are factored in.

The same adjustment was made for Clark County’s April labor market results, with a preliminary unemployment rate of 10.2 percent revised to 12.8 percent. Still, the county’s economy is showing signs of slow improvement: The revised April jobless rate — 12.8 percent — was well below the 14.4 percent unemployment rate the county posted in April 2010.

On another positive note, the number of initial unemployment insurance claims filed by Clark County residents went from 2,415 in April to 1,676 in May — a 30 percent decrease. However, May’s initial jobless claims were still 25 percent above pre-recession levels, according to Bailey.

The number of people filing claims during their first six months of unemployment was 4,700 — 50 percent above pre-recession levels. Moreover, 4,827 Clark County residents had been receiving benefits for more than six months.

More than 3,300 county residents have exhausted all unemployment benefits. An unknown number of county residents have filed for jobless benefits under Oregon’s system or have exhausted benefits from that state.

Aaron Corvin: 360-735-4518 or aaron.corvin@columbian.com.