Although Clark County's economy is slowly on the mend, its workers still show the bruises of the worst crash since the Great Depression.
Since 2008, about 14,000 people have dropped out of the labor force, according to Scott Bailey, regional labor economist for the Washington state Employment Security Department. And, currently, more than 21,000 job seekers in the county remain unemployed.
Bailey delivered those and other sobering numbers Friday to about 20 people who attended a panel discussion at the Harvest Restaurant in downtown Camas. The event was sponsored by the Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association. Jeanne Bennett, executive director of the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council, also spoke.
Bailey focused on local, state and national labor market conditions. Clark County's unemployment rate stands at 10 percent, Bailey said, "a couple points" higher than the rates of joblessness in the Portland metro area and Washington state. By another broader measure of labor market inertia — the underemployment rate, which includes involuntary part-time workers and those who've given up looking for work but who still want a job — things are worse.
In the U.S., the underemployment rate is roughly 14 percent, Bailey said. In Clark County, it's likely about 20 percent.
Bailey said the problem is on a national level, where no one seems to be doing anything about a condition in which millions of Americans remain out of work.
If Bailey's role was to spell out a tough situation, Bennett's was to outline what might be done about it on a regional level. Bennett centered her comments on the types of programs and strategies her organization is deploying to train and connect people to jobs.
The Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council, whose partners include SEH America and PeaceHealth, is working toward numerous goals aimed at boosting the regional talent pool, Bennett said. They include connecting students to employers, retraining workers and improving the workforce in targeted industries: manufacturing, health care and information technology.
One major objective is to prepare the region's workforce for a growing number of jobs in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, industries, Bennett said.
To that end, the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council plans to convene "STEM Fest 2013" in September. The event (http://www.stem-fest.com/) is intended to increase students' interest in local STEM businesses and careers by providing real-world, hands-on activities.