County sees no progress on joblessness

Regional economist predicts more of the same

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

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Clark County made no real progress in shrinking its unemployment in December, reporting a preliminary unemployment rate of 9.2 percent that could climb to 11.4 percent after unemployed county residents who work in Oregon are added into the count, said state regional economist Scott Bailey.

The report issued Tuesday by the Washington Employment Security Department shows that Clark County added only 200 jobs, or two-tenths of a percent, during the last year, said Bailey, the department’s regional economist for Southwest Washington. November’s jobless rate, which had been 8.8 percent without the Oregon unemployment numbers, rose to 11 percent with the Oregon numbers added.

Statewide, the December unemployment rate was estimated at 8.6 percent without seasonal adjustment, little changed from November but significantly below the December 2010 rate of 9.2 percent. The U.S. unemployment rate stands at 8.5 percent, seasonally adjusted. Using a broader measure that includes discouraged workers who have stopped looking for jobs and part-time workers who want full employment, the U.S. unemployment rate for December is estimated at 15.2 percent.

Oregon’s unemployment rate was 8.9 percent in December, down from 10.3 percent the previous December. Portland-area unemployment numbers for the month were not available due to flooding in state employment offices in Salem, Ore.

The U.S. Labor Department said Tuesday that unemployment fell in 37 states in December, rose in three and remained unchanged in 10. That’s similar to November, when joblessness declined in 43 states, and October, when it dropped in 36.

Bailey said in his monthly jobs report that the new numbers amount to a “slow news month,” with little change in the labor market or key economic indicators. “The more optimistic forecasts for the next year are for more of the same,” Bailey wrote. “Slow improvement, with little headway in the labor market.”

Some job categories increased slightly, and others dropped slightly as the bruised economy continued its uneven pace in Clark County. Overall, Bailey said, the county lost 100 jobs in December. Construction lost 300 jobs and the business services category declined by 200 jobs for the month. A preliminary analysis suggests that the year’s fourth quarter was weaker than the same quarter in 2010, he said.

Looking back on all of 2011 in Clark County, the state reported an increase of 400 jobs in health care and 300 in wholesale trade. Those gains were offset by the net loss of 500 government jobs, including 600 in K-12 public education. The weakened construction industry finally made it through a year without a net job loss following years of decline, Bailey said.

In a whiff of good news, initial unemployment claims filed by Clark County residents who work in Washington dropped by 10 percent over the month, and ongoing claims declined for the second consecutive month. But the rate of new claims remains one-third higher than pre-recession levels, Bailey noted.

Statewide, the economic outlook appears a bit brighter.

From December 2010 to December 2011, employment in Washington increased by an estimated 29,600 jobs, according to numbers released last week from a federal Bureau of Labor Statistics household survey. In December, the state saw increases in education, health services and manufacturing employment. Jobs disappeared in professional and business services and retail trade, as well as the leisure and hospitality categories. Other sectors shedding jobs statewide in December were construction, government and financial services.

Almost 300,000 Washingtonians were unemployed and looking for work in December, and as of last week more than 71,000 Washington workers had run out of all unemployment benefits, the Employment Security Department said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.