Clark County employment up slightly in April

Most new hires a result of seasonal factors

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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Clark County’s economy showed only a slight gain in April, with payrolls expanding by 100 jobs from the same period a year ago, the state Employment Security Department reported Tuesday.

Total county employment was an estimated 126,800 in April — 500 more jobs than in March, although most of those hires were due to seasonal factors, said Scott Bailey, regional labor economist.

Clark County’s initial jobless rate for April was 10.2 percent. However, that rate is expected to be revised upward when jobless claims of county residents who worked in Oregon are factored in.

The same adjustment was made for Clark County’s March labor market results, with a preliminary unemployment rate of 10.5 percent revised to 13 percent. The modified March jobless rate was well below the 15.6 percent unemployment rate from March 2010.

Clark County’s overall employment picture is a mix of positive and negative trends.

The county’s nonfarm employment was revised sharply upward for the fourth quarter of 2010, Bailey wrote in his Southwest Washington Labor Market News report. Employment expanded at more than a 2 percent annualized clip.

However, “job growth appears to have slowed in the first four months of the year,” Bailey wrote. “Much of the weakness was in retail trade and government, but construction also slipped a bit.”

Over the past 12 months, solid job growth occurred in finance, professional and business services, and health care. On the negative side, construction “has continued to downsize,” according to Bailey, and K-12 schools and local governments have cut jobs.

Looking ahead, Bailey sees more improvement in the county’s private sector, primarily in the service sector. That sector includes consulting firms, temporary job placement agencies and health care companies. “Health care looks to be back on a growth path after taking a year or so off,” Bailey said.

As for the county’s construction industry, it will “bottom out,” Bailey wrote. “The public sector will continue to act as a drag, however.”

The number of initial jobless insurance claims filed by Clark County residents went from 2,136 in March to 2,415 in April — a 13 percent increase and “not a good sign,” according to Bailey. “Initial claims were essentially unchanged from last April, and indicate that parts of the economy are still shedding jobs in large numbers.”

The number of people filing claims during their first six months of unemployment fell 3 percent to 5,141, “a normal seasonal decline,” Bailey wrote. During economically healthy times, there normally would be roughly 3,100 such claims during this time of year.

Additionally, 4,969 Clark County residents had been receiving benefits for more than six months. More than 3,000 county residents have exhausted all unemployment benefits.

An unknown number of Clark County residents have filed for unemployment benefits under Oregon’s system or have exhausted benefits from that state.