Clark County economy adds 3,100 jobs in November

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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Clark County's economy continued to improve in the 12 months ending in November, a new report issued by the state showed Monday, adding 3,100 jobs and posting a healthy annualized growth rate of 2.3 percent.

All but two employment sectors showed a net gain in jobs over the year, according to Scott Bailey, regional labor economist for the state Employment Security Department. Trade, transportation and utilities fattened payrolls by 800 jobs, construction boomed with 600 jobs, leisure and hospitality grew by 600 positions and financial services chipped in 400 jobs.

On the negative side, health care shed 100 jobs. Government employment saw no change over the year.

Meanwhile, the county's preliminary unemployment rate in November clocked in at 7 percent, Bailey wrote in his "Southwest Washington Labor Market News" report, released Monday. That's down from 8.1 percent unemployment in November 2012.

However, November's initial jobless rate of 7 percent may be revised upward next month "by at least a point," according to Bailey. The revision would take into account those unemployed county residents who previously worked in Oregon.

The county's preliminary jobless rate of 7.1 percent in October was similarly revised upward to 8.3 percent. Clark County's unemployment rate reached its highest level in March 2010: 15.9 percent.

The newest numbers point to a Clark County labor market steadily on the mend. During the Great Recession years -- from February 2008 to February 2010 -- the county hemorrhaged about 10,000 jobs, according to Bailey. Since then, it has recovered 9,300 jobs, or about 93 percent of what was lost.

Still, things could be much better.

"Since the recession began, the county's population has grown, and there are roughly 21,000 more working-age adults," Bailey wrote in his report. "We'd expect, in a normal economy, about 14,000 of them to be in the labor force. So while the county is very close to getting back to where it was when things headed south in February 2008, it is still well short of where it needs to be."

Washington, Portland

Clark County's economy appears to be performing better than Washington's and the Portland metro region's.

Washington shed 7,400 jobs in October and a preliminary estimate of 6,000 in November, according to Bailey, "begging the question: What is going on? Is this for real?" It may not be, as Bailey wrote, adding that "we'll have to wait a few months for the quarterly revisions to know for sure."

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the Portland metro region's economy lost 600 jobs from October to November, marking the third month in a row of job losses. As with Washington state, Bailey wrote, "it would be wise not to sound any alarms before we get the quarterly revised numbers in."

In the Portland metro region, unemployment was 6.7 percent in November. By contrast, the rest of Oregon flexed some muscle last month, recording "its fourth straight month of solid job creation," Bailey noted.