By John Wolcott SCBJ Freelance Writer
The latest Snohomish County Labor Market Update for October 2011 offered slight optimism as the unemployment rate fell to from 10.1 percent a year earlier to 8.7 percent, the lowest rate recorded since late 2008.
Employment at the opening of the fourth quarter of 2011 totaled 347,160 workers, while unemployment numbers settled to 33,250 people.
According to the detailed report prepared by Anneliese Vance-Sherman, the Washington Employment Security Department’s county economist, the most significant points included a decline of .3 percent in unemployment since September, with employment numbers continuing a general upward trend over the past year.
During that time, manufacturing industries experienced the greatest growth, particularly in aerospace products and parts production, primarily at the Boeing Co.’s Everett assembly plant.
Construction job sectors continued to be weak, showing the greatest declines from October 2010 to 2011.
Looking back, Vance-Sherman noted that the current recession began in mid-2008, causing unemployment rates to peak in February 2010 at 11.1 percent. Since then, the rate has slowly diminished, reflecting a somewhat improving labor market situation, she said.
However, the November 2011 forecast by the state’s Economic and Revenue Forecast Council predicts an “elevated statewide unemployment rate will likely persist for the next couple of years.”
Unemployment numbers are difficult to track and assess, the report noted, explaining that sometimes the decline reflects people ending active job searches, moving out of the county or enrolling in school, among other things.
While the size of the workforce “fluctuates seasonally, it has been declining and stagnating in recent months,” Vance-Sherman wrote in her study.
“The labor force (numbers) represent an estimate of the number of adults who are either formally employed or actively seeking employment and living within the county,” she wrote.
Unemployment and labor force data are compiled from several sources, including a national monthly survey of households, employment statistics and unemployment insurance claims. Because “there is considerable room for error, the best way to read unemployment data is in terms of trends over time and for comparing places rather than reading individual estimates out of context.”
The top five occupational groups filing claims for unemployment benefits in October included construction and extraction-related jobs, production jobs, office and administrative services, transportation and material-moving jobs, and management occupations.
Vance-Sherman’s report noted that over the past year, growth in the county’s manufacturing sector, led by the aerospace product and parts sector, has boosted by hiring “to a great extent … (creating) 6,700 new jobs. … Aerospace manufacturing currently employs 42,200 people in the county,” primarily at Boeing’s Everett plane assembly plant and among Boeing suppliers.
She also notes that labor force estimates for Snohomish County tend to be larger than employment numbers because a large portion of county residents commute to work, primarily to King County. Boeing reports on its website that the company supported 81,394 jobs in Washington state as of Oct. 27, primarily at its Everett and Renton assembly plants.
With Boeing’s December announcement that the new 737MAX airliner would be built at the Renton plant, along with increased production rates for current 737 models, more employment is expected in King County in the coming months.
Looking at announcements of upcoming layoffs, Vance-Sherman’s report noted that 760 workers at Everett’s Kimberly-Clark pulp and paper products production mill were expected to be laid off by the end of the year. The company announced Dec. 8 that sales talks with Atlas Holdings LLC had failed and the mill will be closed by the end of March 2012.
The Employment Security Department was notified of the layoffs of 67 employees at BlueScope Buildings North America’s steel building plant in Arlington, effective Dec. 12. Likewise, 76 employees of Darrington’s Hampton Lumber Mills were due to be laid off by Dec. 12.
Publishing and telecommunications businesses shed 100 employees in October, while 100 jobs were added in financial activities industries, which include banking, credit companies, insurance and real estate firms.
Employment in professional and business services held steady, as did jobs in the educational, health and social services sector at 28,100 workers. Leisure and hospitality employment dropped an estimated 500 jobs.
Government employment payrolls rose 1,400 between September and October totals, partially because of teachers returning to classrooms after summer break. Overall, government employment has been “falling over the past several months,” Vance-Sherman’s report noted, “due to lower than expected revenues at state and national levels. … This sector is expected to continue to experience an overall decline over the next couple of years.”
Over the year, the October report noted, specialty trade contractors lost 1,100 jobs, a 9.5 percent reduction of the workforce, including a 10.5 percent loss of jobs in the sub-sector of heavy and civil engineering construction.
In the same period, private sector employers added 2,200 service jobs, although retail trade, the largest sector, cut 600 jobs, while professional and business services added 800 jobs over the year ending October 2011.
Further employment rates, trends and employment by various job categories can be found at www.erfc.wa.gov. Information about Boeing Co. employment patterns and projections can be found at www.boeing.com.