Latest Job Numbers a Mixed Bag for Workers

Economist says economy has "hit bottom," but warns of tough times still ahead

Despite modest employment gains locally, job numbers released last week by the Washington State Employment Security Dept. painted a gloomy picture – even as Clark County's unemployment rate dropped from a revised 13 percent in May to 12.4 percent in June.

According to regional economist Scott Bailey, the latest employment figures revealed an extremely-challenging job market for out-of-work Southwest Washingtonians. 
Last week’s release of June regional employment figures showed a decline in Clark County’s unemployment rate from an adjusted 13
percent in May to 12.4 last month. Above, the WorkSource Vancouver office on Mill Plain Boulevard.

"Employment continued to trend downward at a slow rate [in June]," he said.

According to Bailey, most of the jobs created in May were due to a temporary summer tutoring program and hiring for the U.S. Census, both of which began to fall off in June. Additionally, while construction, manufacturing and financial services grew by a total of 400 jobs, Bailey said the increase was less than projected, with the county seeing a modest 100 net job gain.

Washington state saw more definitive signs of improvement, with seasonally-adjusted unemployment dropping from 9.2 percent to 8.9 percent. Nationally, the unemployment rate fell from 9.7 percent to 9.5 percent, with "real unemployment," which factors in part-time workers looking for full-time positions, virtually unchanged at 16.5 percent.

Additionally, Bailey said the effects of an impasse between Senate Republicans and Democrats over a bill to extend jobless benefits were already being felt locally, with 855 Clark County residents exhausting their unemployment benefits the first week of July.
"That number will increase in the coming months and accelerate in the fall as we come to the 99-week anniversary of the collapse of the labor market in September," Bailey said.

Eric Schubert, owner of Express Employment Professionals on Mill Plain Boulevard in Vancouver, says his industry is gearing up to deal with the oncoming influx of cash-strapped workers looking to supplant their lost unemployment benefits with any jobs they can find.

"Based on what I've heard, the next few months are going to get very busy around here," Schubert said.

Schubert said he anticipated a 30 percent increase in temporary job orders in September, from 75 open positions to between 97 and 110.

Meanwhile, one of Clark County's fastest-growing employers, SEH America, Inc., had no plans to increase hiring, according to a source at the company who asked that her name be withheld.

"We don't have any plans of hiring increases in September," she said, "Although we really would like the unemployment numbers to get better."

Even though Congress returned from their summer break on July 12, progress towards an extension of unemployment benefits did not occur until July 20.

For workers looking to the region's housing sector for job growth, there was only modest improvement to report. So far this year, 493 permits for housing units were filed with Clark County – better than the same period last year, but only a third of the average from 1997-2007, according to Bailey.

With the economic picture regionally similar to that across the nation, Bailey said the most important decisions regarding job growth locally would be made in Washington D.C., which is girding itself for a highly-contested midterm election season.

And while Bailey doesn't see the employment situation getting much worse, he also isn't expecting improvement anytime soon – regardless of federal government action.

"Southwest Washington has hit bottom, but has yet to turn the corner." Bailey said. "With the national economy likely to slow in the coming months, any substantial improvement remains unlikely this year."

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