Clark County’s economy remains on a path of brisk growth, the region’s labor economist reported Tuesday, generating 5,100 jobs year over year and posting an annualized growth rate of 3.7 percent.
The county’s continuing “hot streak,” as described by Scott Bailey, regional labor economist for the state Employment Security Department, included an increase of 1,400 jobs from April to May.
The county’s annualized growth rate of 3.7 percent more than doubled that of the nation’s (1.7 percent), easily topped those of Washington and Oregon (2.5 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively) and surpassed that of the Portland metro area (2.9 percent).
The county’s robust expansion reflects the nation’s ongoing recovery more than six years after the financial crisis slammed things to a halt. In a phone interview Tuesday, Bailey said consumers are spending again as household debt recedes. “We’re seeing lower debt levels and people not underwater in their homes to the extent they were two or three years ago,” he said.
Indeed, a report of economic activity in May, issued this month by the U.S. Federal Reserve, showed increases in consumer spending and loan demand across most of the country, while “labor market conditions generally strengthened” as hiring activity was “steady to strong” across most of the U.S.
Meanwhile, residential real estate activity “was mixed across the country,” according to the Fed, “with some reports of low inventories constraining sales.” At the same time, however, home prices “continued to increase across most of the country, while the markets for both condos and apartment rentals were mostly robust.”
Asked whether Clark County government’s controversial decision in June 2013 to eliminate all traffic impact and permit fees for nonresidential development has been a factor in the region’s economic expansion, Bailey said addressing such a question “would take further analysis.”
Gains in most sectors
In Clark County, all but two employment sectors showed a net gain in jobs, with at least a 2 percent annualized growth rate, in the 12 months ending in May, according to Bailey’s analysis.
Education and health services boomed with 1,400 jobs; professional and business services fattened payrolls by 1,200 jobs; construction grew by 900 positions; transportation and utilities added 800 jobs; and leisure and hospitality chipped in 300 jobs.
However, not all was bright in Clark County’s labor market.
For example, manufacturing shed 100 jobs. Although the county’s manufacturing sector is down 0.8 percent over the year, the sector is on the rise nationwide. As reported by Bloomberg.com, the Markit Economics preliminary index showed U.S. manufacturing increased to 57.5 in June, the highest since May 2010, from 56.4 a month earlier. Figures exceeding 50 in the Markit Economics gauge signal expansion.
Meanwhile, Clark County’s public sector, held back by a loss of 200 state government jobs, saw no net change over the year.
As most of the region’s payrolls have increased, the county’s unemployment rate has steadily improved. The county’s preliminary jobless rate in May clocked in at 6.6 percent. That’s down from 9.5 percent unemployment in May 2013. However, May’s initial jobless rate of 6.6 percent “will likely be revised upward” next month, according to Bailey. The revision would take into account those unemployed county residents who previously worked in Oregon. Clark County’s preliminary jobless rate of 6.3 percent in April was revised upward by 0.6 of a point to 6.9 percent.
“These monthly revisions will likely get smaller as the labor market improves,” Bailey wrote in his analysis.
Not surprisingly, Clark County’s labor market is faring better than its less populous counterparts in Southwest Washington. In Cowlitz County, for example, employers added 1,000 jobs over the year, handing the county an annualized growth rate of 2.8 percent. Unemployment was 8.5 percent — down from 10.4 percent in May 2013.
In central Puget Sound, King County’s economy, driven by the Seattle area, grew by 41,700 jobs over the year — an annualized rate of 3.3 percent. The jobless rate was 4.7 percent, down slightly from 4.9 percent a year ago. Snohomish County’s growth rate dipped 0.2 percent over the year, shedding 500 jobs. That region posted an unemployment rate of 5.1 percent in May, down slightly from 5.4 percent a year ago.
In Pierce County, meanwhile, employers added 9,100 jobs since May 2013. That’s up 3.2 percent. Unemployment in that region, anchored by Tacoma, was 7.2 percent. That’s down from 8.3 percent a year ago.
In Eastern Washington, Spokane County’s labor market created 1,900 jobs year-over-year — an annualized growth rate of just under 1 percent. Unemployment was 6.7 percent, down from 7.7 percent in May 2013.
Grays Harbor County had the state’s highest unemployment rate in May: 10.5 percent. That region’s economy lost 390 jobs over the year, shrinking by 1.7 percent.