Report: Clark County's economy showed slow improvement in July

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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The month of July found Clark County’s labor market improving as strong private-sector job growth and fewer first-time claims for unemployment insurance provided signs of health.

But the progress isn’t happening quickly, according to Scott Bailey, the region’s labor economist, who released his “Southwest Washington Labor Market News” report Tuesday.

“Step by step, inch by inch, Clark County employment has been crawling out of the recession,” Bailey wrote. “Progress remains agonizingly slow, however.”

The county’s economy added a net 800 jobs in the 12 months through July, marking an annualized growth rate of 0.6 percent. Boosted by gains in manufacturing and wholesale trade, private-sector payrolls swelled at twice that overall rate, adding 1,600 jobs over the year and posting annualized growth of 1.5 percent.

Once again, though, cuts in the public sector blunted those private-sector gains. Government employers shed 800 jobs, leaving Clark County with a net gain of 800 jobs, year over year.

The county’s preliminary unemployment rate in July was 9 percent. However, that rate is expected to be revised upward to just under 11 percent to account for unemployed Clark County residents who previously worked in Oregon. The same adjustment was made for the county’s jobless rate in June, which was initially reported at 9.1 percent but was later changed to 10.9 percent.

The county’s jobless rate has dipped below 11 percent only four times since December 2008, when it was 10.4 percent. It reached its highest level since the economic crash in March 2010 — 15.9 percent.

Nonetheless, the June jobless rate “was 1.6 (percentage) points lower than the 12.5 percent recorded in June 2011,” according to Bailey.

By contrast, the Portland metro area posted a jobless rate of 8.1 percent in July.

Another bright spot in Clark County could be found in the decreasing number of first-time claims for jobless insurance filed by residents in Washington state’s unemployment insurance system. In July, those initial claims continued a downward trend, falling below 2,000 “for the first time since March 2008,” Bailey wrote.

And there was more good news: The county’s labor force has shown steady growth all year, according to Bailey, “so lower unemployment was due entirely to employment growth.” That’s a change for the better from the jobless rate dropping because of people leaving the labor force, Bailey reported, “as had been the case over the past few years.”

Aaron Corvin: http://twitter.com/col_econ; http://on.fb.me/AaronCorvin; 360-735-4518; aaron.corvin@columbian.com