April sees jobs scene blossom in Clark County

5,400 positions added since same time last year

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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Clark County revved its economy in April, the region's labor economist reported Tuesday, expanding by 5,400 jobs year-over-year and posting an annualized growth rate of nearly 4 percent.

The county's growth included an increase of 1,200 jobs from March to April, making last month "one of the best months of the recovery," according to Scott Bailey, regional labor economist for the state Employment Security Department.

The county's annualized growth rate of 3.9 percent more than doubled that of the nation's (1.7 percent), topped those of Washington and Oregon (both at 2.6 percent) and surpassed that of the Portland metro area (2.9 percent).

In a phone interview Tuesday, Bailey said medium-size and small companies are "doing a lot of the hiring," including in the region's wholesale trade, and professional and business services sectors. Construction is up, he said, and health care is reviving after a brief slump.

It's a vastly brighter picture of a regional economy that was plunged into gloom by a global economic meltdown not so long ago. After losing 9,000 jobs to the Great Recession, Clark County has built up 13,100 jobs — a net gain of 4,100 jobs.

The county's strong growth reflects, in part, the nation's continued recovery, Bailey said, as consumer demand has strengthened. "It looks pretty good," Bailey added. "If we keep this up, we'll start to put a dent in some of that long-term unemployment that's out there."

All but two employment sectors showed a net gain in jobs in the 12 months ending in April, according to Bailey's analysis. Education and health services fattened payrolls by 1,400 jobs; trade, transportation and utilities boomed with 1,100 jobs; professional and business services grew by 1,000 positions; construction chipped in 900 jobs; and leisure and hospitality added 600 jobs.

Both manufacturing and government saw no net change in employment over the year.

Meanwhile, the county's preliminary unemployment rate in April clocked in at 6.3 percent. That's down from 9.6 percent unemployment in April 2013.

However, April's initial jobless rate of 6.3 percent may be revised upward a bit next month. The revision would take into account those unemployed county residents who previously worked in Oregon. Clark County's preliminary jobless rate of 7.5 percent in March was revised upward by 0.7 point to 8.2 percent.

Nonetheless, the payroll and unemployment numbers put up by the county in April underscore a labor market steadily on the mend after collapsing more than six years ago under the weight of the global financial crash.

Since nonfarm employment peaked in November 2007, according to Bailey, the county has lost 9,000 jobs — 1,000 fewer than previously estimated because of a change in how home health care workers are categorized — and has gained back 13,100 jobs, for a net gain of 4,100 jobs.

Although the county's total job count has increased, its labor market has experienced "substantial changes at the industry level," Bailey noted. "The county has 2,800 fewer construction jobs, 900 fewer manufacturing jobs, and 3,400 more jobs in health care and social assistance."

Of the 3,400 additional jobs in health care and social assistance, according to Bailey, most — 2,400 — were in health care. And of the 1,000 additional jobs in social assistance, "almost all were family caretakers."

April 2014 Washington jobless numbers

Unemployment numbers for April 2014 for the state of Washington. Source: Washington Employment Security Department