Washington sheds 1,100 jobs in August

Unemployment rate rises slightlyto 8.6 percent

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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State: Workers’ comp rate to stay the same

The state’s Labor and Industries Department proposed Monday to keep the average workers’ compensation insurance rate unchanged for the coming year, citing unexpectedly large cost savings from reforms enacted in 2011.

The department, which oversees Washington’s state-run workers’ compensation system, said those reforms are now projected to save $1.5 billion over four years, $300 million more than estimated earlier.

L&I officials outlined options in the summer for a range of potential rate increases that would begin to replenish the system’s surplus or cushion for unexpected losses. Increases of 7.8 percent to 28.6 percent in the average rate were discussed.

But in a statement Monday, the department said holding rates flat would still yield $82 million that could be added to the surplus by the end of 2013.

The department said its projections show that without the savings attributed to the 2011 reforms, the workers’ comp system would have required a 4 percent increase to break even in 2013.

Washington state's economy came up short in August, the state Employment Security Department reported Wednesday, as large decreases in leisure and hospitality and wholesale trade payrolls contributed to a net loss of 1,100 jobs over the month.

However, the July-to-August slump doesn't necessarily foreshadow a deeper downturn to come, said Scott Bailey, regional labor economist for the Employment Security Department.

August was a weak month but "well within the volatility" that the state's economy has shown in the past, Bailey said. He added that it's "way too early" to call last month's sluggish labor market a trend.

What's more, employers in Washington added a net 52,700 jobs in the 12 months through August, according to the Employment Security Department, leaving the state with an estimated unemployment rate of 8.6 percent.

That compares with July's jobless rate of 8.5 percent. In August 2011, unemployment was 9.2 percent.

The net gain of 52,700 jobs since August 2011 represents an annual growth rate of 1.9 percent. By contrast, the state's economy, in the aftermath of the 2001 recession, eventually gathered steam in 2005, with 2.8 percent growth, and in 2006, with 3 percent growth.

So, while nearly 2 percent growth is decent, Bailey said, it's still below the improvement seen after 2001 -- and certainly not enough to rapidly push the state's unemployment rate down.

Construction gains

The heavy job losses in August came in wholesale trade, which dropped an estimated 2,600 jobs from July, and leisure and hospitality, which shed 2,300 jobs.

However, there was a bright spot in the August numbers: Washington's

construction industry led all sectors in employment gains, with an estimated 1,900 jobs. That contributed to a net gain of 3,900 construction jobs since August 2011.

Overall, the state's year-over-year payroll numbers show that 11 job sectors grew, one shrank and another was unchanged.

In the private sector, employers added an estimated 57,700 jobs. Public sector employers, however, cut 5,000 jobs, leaving a net gain of 52,700 jobs year over year.

Local governments shed 3,300 jobs, state government employment was down 700 positions and federal government employment decreased by 1,000 positions.

In the private sector, industries adding jobs included manufacturing (up 14,000 jobs over the year, with 8,000 of those new positions coming from aerospace product and parts fabrication).

Professional and business services added an estimated 11,500 jobs over the year, and retail trade payrolls grew by 5,400 jobs.

In August, an estimated 301,700 people in Washington were unemployed and looking for work. That includes 129,676 who claimed unemployment benefits last month.

Also in August, 3,429 unemployed workers ran out of unemployment benefits, bringing the total to 108,669 since extended benefits were activated in July 2008.

Clark County's labor market results for August are slated to be released Sept. 25.

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