County’s falling jobless rate could signal better times ahead

  • Wed Dec 21st, 2011 8:47am

By Mike Benbow Herald Writer

The recession ended more than two years ago, but it didn’t start looking like it in Snohomish County until the jobless rate hit 8.6 percent last month.

“Although 8.6 percent is still regarded as a high unemployment rate, this is the lowest rate we have seen locally since late 2008,” Anneliese Vance-Sherman, the regional labor economist for the state’s Employment Security Department, reported Tuesday.

That’s not to say the county is out of the woods. But things are moving in the right direction.


• After hitting a high of 11.1 percent in February 2010, then hovering at more than 10 percent for a long time, the jobless rate has generally fallen slowly for the past year.

• Since bottoming out in 2010, employment has grown, also slowly. In November, the county added 1,400 jobs to its payrolls.

• Manufacturing jobs have particularly improved, especially in aerospace, which has created 6,000 new jobs during the past year. The loss of 700 jobs at Kimberly-Clark Corp. in the next few months may turn the needle the other way temporarily.

Still, the November rate was an improvement from October, when unemployment was estimated at a revised 8.8 percent. Statewide, the jobless rate is 8.3 percent.

Adding jobs in the county were trade, transportation and utilities (1,100) government (400), manufacturing (200), information (100) and education and health services (100).

Losing jobs were construction (400) and leisure and hospitality (100).

“Over the past year, the number of Snohomish County residents counted as employed grew by an estimated 5,180 and the number counted as unemployed fell 6,300,” Vance-Sherman said.

She noted that construction jobs have declined the most in the county and aerospace jobs have grown the most. She said aerospace companies now employ about 42,300 people in the county.

That could continue to grow if Boeing decides to do all the work on the new U.S. Air Force tanker in the Puget Sound area, as reported earlier this week by a representative in Congress for the Wichita area. Boeing said it is considering whether to close its defense plant in Wichita, but hadn’t yet made the decision.

Vance-Sherman noted that the recession began in December 2007 and officially ended in June 2009, more than two years ago.

“In terms of employment … economic hardship did not end with the official conclusion of the recession,” she said. “The recovery period has been characterized by continuing downward employment trends followed by initially weak growth that didn’t take hold until 2010. Growth has continued through most months in 2011.

“While this is encouraging news, we still have a long way to go before most industries recover employment levels seen prior to the onset of the recession in 2008.”

In November, an estimated 32,620 people were unemployed and looking for work, Vance-Sherman said.

The number doesn’t include people who’ve become discouraged and stopped looking, or have relocated, or have part-time jobs and would like full-time work.

In Island County, unemployment dipped to 8.2 percent from 8.3 percent in October. King County, where many of the new jobs were added in November, saw unemployment fall to 7.6 percent last month from 8 percent in October.

2011 unemployment benefit payments slightly off of record-breaking pace of 2010

After two record-setting years, the number of people receiving unemployment benefits — and the amount they received — shrank in 2011, the Employment Security Department reported Dec. 21.

An estimated 440,000 people received benefits in 2011, a 12 percent drop from the all-time record of 503,000 in 2010. In 2009, 470,231 individuals collected jobless benefits.

Benefit payouts will total about $3.2 billion this year, compared to $4.6 billion in 2010 and $4 billion in 2009. More than 54 percent of the 2011 payouts were covered by federal funds, with 46 percent coming from the state’s benefits fund.

Overall, the average length of time Washington workers collected unemployment benefits declined from 42.2 weeks in 2010 to about 36.2 weeks near the end of 2011.

“Some of the decline is due to an improved economy, and some of it is due to unemployed workers simply running out of benefits,” said Employment Security Commissioner Paul Trause.

By the end of December, about 70,000 workers will have exhausted all of their unemployment benefits, the most ever during a period when extended benefits were in effect.

“From a workload standpoint, we still had the third-highest number of benefit recipients and payouts ever,” Trause said.

Despite the persistently large claims load, Employment Security’s budget is dropping by 16 percent in the July 2011-June 2013 budget period, forcing the agency to initiate its largest layoff in six years. By the end of January, the department will have shed more than 500 positions, with more layoffs expected next summer.

Other notable 2011 facts and figures from Employment Security include the following.

A first-in-the-nation survey last spring found that only 25 percent of Washington workers who had run out of unemployment benefits had found new jobs. Four-fifths of them were earning an average of 29 percent less than before they were laid off.

Through November, the state had regained an estimated 69,800 of the 205,300 jobs that were lost in the recession. The private sector has added an estimated 78,600 of those jobs, while government employment has declined by 8,800.

The governor and state Legislature cut businesses’ unemployment taxes by more than $300 million in 2011. They will drop by another $207 million in 2012, without harming the health of the state’s benefits fund. By contrast, most other states are increasing unemployment taxes and/or cutting benefits to help their systems recover from the recession.

Washington’s WorkSource system provided free employment and training services to about 331,000 job seekers statewide. That number is down for the second consecutive year, from 376,000 in 2010 and 391,000 in 2009.

WorkSource also provided worker recruitment and screening services to more than 15,600 employers for nearly 76,000 job openings. Employers self-listed an additional 200,000 jobs on the system’s website,

WorkSource provided specialized employment services to nearly 32,000 military veterans.

Participation remained high in the state’s layoff-avoidance program called Shared Work. Some 3,100 employers reduced their payroll costs and avoided layoffs by enrolling 36,000 workers in the program in 2011.

A record 53,500 volunteers gave nearly 500,000 hours of public service to local communities through the department’s Washington Service Corps. They tutored and mentored young people, built and rehabilitated homes, responded to natural disasters and helped the disabled and elderly maintain their independence.