In Our View: Hold Off on Celebration

Yes, statewide jobless rate has dropped, but economy still faces many challenges



Hooray! The Great Recession is over! Uh, not so fast. No matter what Wall Street says, the word from Main Street, Wash., is less enthusiastic. The state still hasn’t regained 22 percent of the more than 200,000 jobs that were lost during the Great Recession.

We wish the current running of the bulls extended more profoundly from Wall Street into Southwest Washington, where the proverbial floodgates are barely creaking.

But, many might ask, didn’t the state Employment Security Department announce on Wednesday an encouraging drop in the unemployment rate from March’s 7.3 percent to April’s 7 percent? Yes, but remember, that jobless rate only represents people out of work and actively looking for jobs; it does not include discouraged workers who have given up and stopped looking for work.

Others might ask, wasn’t state labor economist Scott Bailey quoted by The Associated Press on Wednesday as saying that, despite the talk about discouraged workers not being counted in the jobless rate, April’s 7 percent “is a pure positive trend that we’re looking at right now.”? True, but that trend is not so positive for more than 243,000 Washingtonians who remain unemployed. And it’s even less buoyant to the 138,997 people in our state who have been out of work so long that they’ve exhausted their unemployment benefits.

Our intent is not to automatically inject gloom into Wednesday’s glowing report about the reduction in the state jobless rate. But the view from a lower altitude shows that Clark County was pushing double-digit unemployment percentages not too long ago. The preliminary April jobless rate for this county is expected to be announced on May 21. Hopefully, the news will be positive. But even if it is, our community’s economy will come nowhere near its potential until a reduction in unemployment is accompanied by a longer-lasting development: the arrival of new, high-paying businesses that bring hundreds of meaningful jobs never before offered in Clark County.

Yes, the markets are going bonkers, probably to the extent that warrants a legitimate Hooray! The Dow, the Nasdaq and the S&P have been soaring to all-time highs almost daily in the past few weeks. But the long-term future of the statewide economy remains clouded by doubts about whether the manufacturing contract for Boeing’s new 777X can be secured for here, rather than losing that huge jobs bonanza to another state.

There’s also the troubling news that Washington’s construction jobs actually decreased in April. Transportation, warehousing and utilities also showed slight job declines.

The distant view of the Clark County economy for now reveals little more than small, incremental improvements. Yes, local unemployment has dropped significantly, albeit slowly, from the high of 15.9 percent in March 2010. And yes, the annual jobs growth rate is expected to nudge soon above 2 percent (generally considered to be a healthy percentage). But until the unemployment rate reaches half of that 15.9 percent or lower, any Hooray! urges should be suppressed.