Local jobs market continues its slow growth in June

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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Clark County's job market showed no signs of speeding up in June, the region's labor economist reported Tuesday.

However, "at least it was moving in the right direction," wrote Scott Bailey, in his "Southwest Washington Labor Market News" report, as seasonal hiring in construction, manufacturing, retail, temporary agencies and landscaping fattened payrolls by 600 jobs from May to June.

However, the year-over-year numbers — less affected by the season -- underscored the slowness of the area's labor market. Dragged down by layoffs in the public sector, Clark County's economy added a net 800 jobs in the 12 months through June — an annualized growth rate of merely 0.6 percent.

If the local economy "were in reasonably good shape," Bailey said, the county would see an annualized growth rate of 2.5 percent to 3 percent.

Meanwhile, unemployment in the Southwest Washington region — Clark, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties — "remains high, and there are still many long-term unemployed workers," according to Bailey.

Nationally, Bailey wrote, economic forecasters are revising their projections for growth downward for the rest of 2012. "The consensus is closing in on 1 percent annualized growth," he wrote. "While technically that might not be in recession territory, it would be slow enough to push unemployment up."

One leading forecaster — the Economic Cycle Research Institute, a private independent group that studies the business cycle — "predicted last September that a recession would start in the first quarter of this year or at least by the middle of the year," Bailey wrote. "They are now saying that a recession has started."

Government layoffs

Clark County's preliminary unemployment rate in June was 9.1 percent. But that figure is expected to be revised to roughly 11 percent to account for jobless Clark County residents who previously worked in Oregon.

A similar revision revamped May's unemployment rate from 9.4 percent to 11.2 percent.

On the bright side: May's revised jobless rate was nearly two points lower than the 13.1 percent of May 2011. "Most of the drop was due to an increase in employment," Bailey wrote in his report, "but a small portion was a result of workers dropping out of the labor market."

In Clark County's private sector, employers added 1,800 jobs between June 2011 and 2012. Leading the way were manufacturing (up 800 jobs), trade, transportation and utilities (up 500 jobs), professional and business services (up 300 jobs) and health care (up 300 jobs).

But the county's public sector continued to hemorrhage jobs, which offset the private sector gains. Public sector payrolls shed 1,000 jobs, including 400 K-12 education positions, resulting in the county's net gain of 800 jobs year over year.

Since July 2008, 5,342 Clark County residents have run out of unemployment insurance benefits, according to Bailey. That's an increase of 1,100 over the past three months due, in part, to the termination of the state extended benefits program in April.

The Portland metro area's unemployment rate was 8 percent in June, unchanged from May. The year-ago jobless rate was 9.2 percent.

The metro area added 4,100 jobs in June after an increase of 2,000 jobs in May. Over the year, employment is up 20,800 jobs, or 2.1 percent.

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