Monthly employment numbers for January showed solid job growth in Clark County. But with a potential recession from COVID-19 and falling oil prices, they could be some of the last positive numbers reported from the Washington State Employment Department for some time.
“This is an interesting ballgame today, but last inning was pretty good,” said Scott Bailey, regional economist for Southwest Washington.
In January, seasonally adjusted nonfarm employment increased by 800 jobs in Clark County, and unemployment fell by 2,300 jobs. The department tallied 169,700 jobs in the county, according to the data.
Most sectors made payroll cuts in January, as expected for post-holiday months. That includes retail trade, which cut 700 jobs.
Health care grew more than any other industry, adding 200 jobs. Five industries added 100 jobs, but government and information services cut 100 jobs. Manufacturing cut 200 jobs.
In the past year up to February, Clark County grew by 2,400 jobs, a 1.4 percent growth rate, consistent with the country’s average. It was lower than the state’s 2.3 percent, but it was higher than the Portland metro area’s 1.3 percent. Unemployment sat at 4.5 percent in January, almost 1 percentage point lower than for January 2019.
“If we were going to take a bit of a hit — which it’s too early to tell — we’re at a good starting point,” Bailey said.
February’s employment numbers won’t be released for another few weeks, Bailey said, but he doesn’t think it will show much of an economic change from the virus or stock markets decreasing.
“The surreal thing is with the markets. With the stock market, there’s always a chance it goes up and down,” he said. “Interest rates are dropping really low, overseas supply chains are interrupted and oil prices are dropping. It increases the risk of a recession in the near future, and you see that in the response of political leadership talking about a stimulus package.”
Locally, the first sign of a recession that Clark County will see is initial unemployment claims, he said.
“I’ll be paying close attention to those going forward,” Bailey said.