Recovery crawls along in Clark County

Local economy maintains slow pace, adding 400 jobs in Dec.

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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Clark County's economic recovery maintained its trudging pace in December, an analysis released Wednesday showed, adding 400 jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis from November.

The county's construction, retail trade and professional services sectors "all trended above the seasonal norm" last month, Scott Bailey, regional labor economist for the state Employment Security Department, wrote in his "Southwest Washington Labor Market News" report.

Although December's job growth was solid — and followed decent employment gains in November — year-ago figures illustrate the plodding nature of the county's recovery.

In the 12 months ending in December, Clark County added a net 1,600 jobs, an increase of 1.2 percent over the year. By contrast, when the county's economy is healthy it typically posts an annualized growth rate of 2.5 to 3 percent. "Most sectors have added jobs over the year," according to Bailey, "just not very enthusiastically."

An explanation for the lack of enthusiasm isn't easy. But the U.S. and global economies remain weak. And, as experts have pointed out before, Clark County lacks an ace-in-the-hole of employment growth, such as the Seattle area's Microsoft Corp. and Boeing Co.

Annual revision coming

Meanwhile, Clark County's preliminary unemployment rate of 8 percent in November was revised upward to 8.1 percent — an increase of only a tenth of a point.

The upward revision is usually higher, to account for unemployed county residents who previously worked in Oregon.

It's not yet clear why the revision was so low this time around, Bailey said Wednesday. But a planned revision this spring of payroll and unemployment figures for all of 2012 will clear things up, he said.

"The November (jobless) rate was not revised up like it usually is, but that will likely happen during the annual revision process," Bailey said.

Clark County's preliminary December unemployment rate came in at 8.4 percent. In December 2011, it was 9.3 percent.

Unemployment in the county peaked at 15 percent in late 2009.

Although the county's jobless rate has dropped, it remains too high to declare any victories. In pre-recessionary times, when the area's labor market flexed muscle, the county carried a normal jobless rate in the range of about 5 percent, according to Bailey.

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