Clark County making gradual economic recovery

It shed 300 jobs from December to January, gained 2,200 over a year

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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Clark County’s economy didn’t begin 2013 with a bounce in its step, instead shedding 300 jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis from December to January.

However, “despite taking a step back, the county remains on the slow train to recovery,” according to Scott Bailey, regional labor economist for the state Employment Security Department, in his labor market analysis released Tuesday.

The slow train to recovery can be seen in the county’s annual economic performance. In the 12 months ending in January, the county added a net 2,200 jobs, an increase of 1.7 percent over the year.

By contrast, when the county’s economy is robust, it typically posts an annualized growth rate of 2.5 percent to 3 percent.

So, Clark County’s economy isn’t rolling like a freight hauler. But it’s not stuck in traffic, either.

In fact, the county’s 1.7 percent growth in the past 12 months is within “shouting distance” of Portland’s growth rate, which is now closer to 2 percent, Bailey said. And while the county’s recovery has lagged behind improvement in the U.S. economy, Bailey said, “over the last year or two we’ve been improving at roughly the same rate as the nation.”

Unemployment at 9.9 percent

In highlighting Clark County’s addition of 2,200 jobs since January 2012, Bailey noted two sectors in particular: health care and government. Health care, typically a strong sector, showed a loss of 100 jobs over the year, which is “a rare event,” according to Bailey.

By contrast, government employment, which increased by 400 jobs over the year, “finally appears to have hit bottom and turned upward, although more cuts in state government later this year are possible,” Bailey wrote in his Southwest Washington Labor Market News analysis.

But he cautioned against reading too much into the health care, government and other payroll data. “These are preliminary estimates based upon a sample of employers,” Bailey wrote, “and will be revised over the next six months as we get employment data from all employers …”

Meanwhile, Clark County posted a preliminary unemployment rate of 9.9 percent in January. Typically, the jobless rate is later revised upward to account for unemployed county residents who previously worked in Oregon.

In January 2012, the county’s unemployment rate was 11.5 percent.

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