Clark County's labor market has 'another good month'

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

Published:

 

Clark County's labor market experienced "another good month" in December, the region's economist reported Tuesday, adding 3,900 jobs over the year and posting an annualized growth rate of 2.9 percent.

All but two employment sectors showed a net gain in jobs in the 12 months ending in December 2013, according to Scott Bailey, regional labor economist for the state Employment Security Department. Trade, transportation and utilities payrolls ballooned by 1,100 jobs, professional and business services fattened with 800 jobs, construction added 700 positions, and leisure and hospitality chipped in 500 jobs.

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

The net job growth over the year included a bump up from November to December of 700 jobs, including 400 in retail trade and 200 in professional services.

Meanwhile, the county's preliminary unemployment rate in December clocked in at 7.4 percent, Bailey wrote in his "Southwest Washington Labor Market News" report, released Tuesday. That's down from 8.3 percent unemployment in December 2012.

However, December's initial jobless rate of 7.4 percent may be revised upward next month, 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 percent in November was similarly revised upward to 8.2 percent.

Clark County's unemployment rate reached its highest level in March 2010: 15.9 percent.

The newest numbers underscore Clark County's continued economic recovery. During the Great Recession years — from February 2008 to February 2010 — the county hemorrhaged 10,000 jobs. Since then, it has recovered 9,900, or nearly 100 percent, of what was lost.

But hold your applause.

"While the total job count was almost the same," according to Bailey, "there have been big changes at the industry level." Clark County "has 3,000 fewer construction jobs, 900 fewer manufacturing jobs, 300 fewer real estate, rental and leasing jobs, and 300 fewer transportation jobs," Bailey wrote. "Health care has added 1,900 jobs, corporate offices 900 jobs, and other services 700 jobs."

In a phone interview Tuesday, Bailey said those numbers suggest a troubling trend: that Clark County's recovery is creating more low-wage than middle- to high-wage jobs. "The first two years of the recovery definitely created a disproportionate number of lower-wage jobs," he said. Another concern: "Initial unemployment claims jumped sharply on a seasonally adjusted basis," Bailey noted in his report. "This indicator bears watching to see if the county is approaching a low for this business cycle."

Other job gains

The Portland metro area, Oregon and Washington all showed job gains at the end of 2013.

The metro area "snapped out of a three-month swoon," Bailey wrote, "adding 1,800 jobs over the month." Oregon wrapped up last year "on a positive note," according to Bailey, gaining 4,400 jobs — the fifth straight month of solid job growth.

And Washington's labor market "was looking a little better" in December. November's initial loss of 6,000 jobs was revised downward to 1,500, Bailey wrote, and December showed a gain of 4,800 jobs, "the first positive number in several months."

Although Clark County's labor market remains on the mend, not everyone who wants full-time work is securing it. The underemployment rate is a broader measure of labor market inertia that includes involuntary part-time workers (those who want full-time work but can't find it) and those who've given up looking for work but who still want a job.

The U.S. underemployment rate was 13.1 percent in December 2013, according to Bailey's report. In December 2012, it was 14.4 percent. Bailey has said Clark County's underemployment rate likely mirrors that of the nation's.

Last month also marked another painful fact about the area's labor market.

"For over 1,300 county residents (and perhaps as many as 2,000 if residents claiming in Oregon are included), it was the last month of receiving extended unemployment benefits," according to Bailey.

"These claimants will likely drop out of the labor force," Bailey wrote, "and thus lower the unemployment rate."