State may lead in job recovery, report says

There was a lot of talk about jobs last week, with one report noting that the number of job openings in Washington state continues to decline and a second study suggesting that our state may be among the first to emerge from the recession.

The second report was intriguing for a variety of reasons.

For one, it was good news, suggesting that the number of jobs should begin to rise in the waning months of this year. The other reason it caught my eye is that the idea that Washington would ever lead the nation out of a recession counters conventional wisdom.

The conventional wisdom is that Washington enters a recession about six months after most other parts of the country and fights its way out about six months later than everybody else.

That’s what economists have told me through the years and that’s what happened during the early part of the decade. We also were later than many states in joining the current recession.

Despite all that, a forecast by Moody’s Economy.com suggests we won’t be among the last to emerge.

In a piece by Bill Dedman of msnbc.com (www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30991972), Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Texas and Washington are named as the first wave of states expected to see job growth.

For most of those states, including Washington, the high-tech industries are supposed to fuel early growth. Texas is expected to be benefitted by its energy industries.

The report suggests that there’s already a pent-up demand for technology because a lot of businesses know they need to upgrade but having been putting off spending.

With Microsoft and a large number of other software companies based in Washington, that should help. That’s assuming, of course, that Microsoft drops its plan to cut staff significantly this year, a point the study doesn’t address.

In addition to a strong job base in technology, according to the report, Washington residents have better credit ratings than the population in many other places.

I’m no economist, but I’m finding it hard to believe that Washington state will help lead the way in the nation’s recovery.

I’m not seeing what’s different here today from the previous downturns. But let’s hope Moody’s is right.

The other report I mentioned looks at the past, not the future.

It’s an analysis of job openings by the state Employment Security Department (http://tinyurl.com/ohmuvx).

It says there were 35 percent fewer job openings in April than there were six months earlier. Businesses were trying to fill 32,635 open positions in the spring of 2009 in comparison with 50,593 last fall, according to the report.

Out of 19 industry sectors, 15 saw openings decline, reported Greg Weeks, the director of labor market information for employment security.

The most available jobs were in health care, retail, hotels and restaurants.

Registered nurses were the people most in demand, with the pick of 2,317 job openings statewide in April. That’s been the case for some time now, so people looking for a secure job should take note.

King County had 42 percent of the job openings this spring. Snohomish County had 6 percent, the same amount as Spokane County.

Most of the jobs available this spring didn’t pay all that much. Some 40 percent offered less than $10 an hour. At the top level, 8 percent offered $30 or more an hour.

Mike Benbow: 425-339-3459; benbow@heraldnet.com

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