Spokane versus King County Employment/Unemployment: A Tale of 2 Counties

Spokane County Employment

Spokane County has  caught up to the pre-depression peak


Spokane has an unusual “saw tooth” pattern in its employment chart. Oddly, as shown on this blog in the past, the labor force miraculously resizes in direct proportion to employment so the unemployment rate stays fairly steady.

King County Employment

King County has exceeded the pre-depression peak by 7%


Spokane County Unemployment



King County Unemployment



Spokane County Employment and Unemployment, in charts

From the Washington State Employment Security Department


The ESD chart suggests employment has almost recovered to pre-Depression 2.0 levels (but see chart from U.S. BLS, below, with a strangely different presentation).


From the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics – this chart (only through March of 2015) indicates a weak jobs recovery versus the one provided by ESD, above:


We have no information on why these charts differ. The chart below shows the “labor force”, which includes those who are working and those who are unemployed and also looking for work:


Washington State July unemployment rate increases slightly

The statewide unemployment rate increased slightly to 6.9%.

So far, Washington has recovered about eighty-three percent of the jobs lost during the recession.

via July unemployment rate inclines slightly, while jobs continue to climb.

While the State recovered 83% of jobs lost, Spokane County has recovered just 36% of jobs lost.

Data from WA ESD June employment table:

  • Lowest June employment during downturn was 206,100, highest June reading reached previously was 221,400.
  • A total of 15,300 jobs were lost between the highest June and the lowest June employment levels.
  • As of June 2013, there are 211,600 jobs for a gain of 5,500 since the lowest point. This represents a recovery of 36% (5,500 / 15,300) of the jobs lost.

Spokane County job growth is just under half that of Washington state.  No explanation has been offered as to why that is happening.

Spokane unemployment rises to 9.0%

As I predicted in August, Spokane MSA unemployment has gone up to 9.0%.

Read more of this post

Spokane Employment – Unemployment data update

First chart is the non-farm employment, essentially how many jobs there are here. This chart does not include the self employed and active duty military. We are likely to see  a slight increase in actual jobs due to seasonal employment the next couple of months.

Much will be made of the unemployment rate which fell sharply from 9.0 to 8.6 percent (yep). The media will have quotes from the usual suspects that this a sign of Spokane’s soaring economy and that things are definitely looking up (yep). Please take the chart above into consideration before getting carried away with the superlatives.

I had a phone call this morning about layoffs – the first – at a local health care organization…

I suspect the chart below is a sign of “funny business”. Notice the unusual pattern at the same time, each year, in this chart of month over month changes, in percent.

Local job fair canceled due to lack of employers

The Review Building in Spokane, Washington

Image via Wikipedia

Spokane Community College is canceling its annual spring job fair because their simply wasn’t enough interest from employers.”It’s a little disappointing,” said Robert Foley, one of the fair’s organizers.

via Employers Not Interested In SCC Job Fair – News Story – KXLY Spokane.

A copy of the cancellation letter can be seen online at KXLY.

And homes sales up, but prices down versus a year ago.

For some reason, this building photo reminds me of this (public domain photo from Lord of the Rings Wiki).

This image is practically identical 🙂

Spokane Unemployment Rate Now at 10.6%

Chart shows total employed. A decade worth of job growth, lost, as the number of employed is now at year 2000 levels. National unemployment is at 8.9% and the State wide unemployment level is down to 9.1%.

Looking at January and February, 2011 seems to be tracking a little bit better than 2010. Reminder – chart does not include active duty military, sole proprietors, farmers, …

You can eye ball the chart and see that based on 1990 to 2007 growth, a few years ago the Spokane area was expected to have about 235,000 jobs today.  By that measure, Spokane is 17% below where we thought we were going to be. Kinda puts this depression in perspective?

In the year 2000, unemployment was over 6%. Since then, 10% of all jobs were lost and the population increased, leaving us with … 10.6% unemployment? They only include those who are looking – discouraged workers who give up looking fall off the face of the planet.  Under different circumstances, our real unemployment would be close to 20% (the 6% rate of 2000 plus the 10% jobs lost plus additional population). Which explains all the empty office space and vacant retail shops.

On March 4th, KXLY ran a story saying “Unemployment rate falling in Spokane“.  Which is a good example of why basing a story on anecdotes leads to faulty conclusions.

Below is the same earnings distribution chart included in the Part 3 recommendations, but here it is both sorted and displayed horizontally.

The following is from 2008. As you can see, the majority of jobs are in the top 3 low paying service jobs category. As of 2008, 36% of all jobs were in these 3 categories. The “bioscience cluster” is the 2nd to the bottom row and is the current targeted growth cluster for Spokane’s future.

All charts are from WorkForceExplorer.com

Recommendations 2: Part 1 – Charts

Eastern Washington University

Image via Wikipedia

Recommendation 2: Part 1: Charts!

Part 1 is the boring part. Parts 2-4 are much more interesting 🙂

In early 2009, I wondered what happened to so many manufacturing and technology firms that used to be around Spokane? I started collecting data, which grew into an amusing hobby.

A lot of data is available, and thanks to the Internet and Google, its is not too hard to find if you are a little persistent in digging. I have featured the EWU logo because they have many excellent resources available on their web site.

Much of the data about our area is presented as individual numbers, sometimes tables of numbers, and rarely, charts. It is hard to identify patterns or trends in individual numbers and tables of numbers – unless the data is converted in to some type of chart or we run the original data through a statistical analysis.

Translating data from numbers in to charts converts data into information and then into knowledge. We can quickly see at a glance that poverty has been increasing or that the percent of high school seniors taking the SAT have been dropping or that EWU graduations have increased while enrollment at WSU Spokane has decreased in the last two years.

In most cases, local data has been presented poorly probably because no one thought to take an extra step and turn the data into a form that would be readily accessible to the public: in other words, a chart.

Unfortunately, in other cases, the data has been hidden in hard to find places. Some agencies have translated data into charts, but selected start or end dates to present the trend they wished you to see and not what the complete set of data actually shows. Some provide the data in PDF files which cannot be copied into a spreadsheet. Turning the data into knowledge requires manually re-typing the data tables which discourages the public from turning data into useful information.

To improve local planning – and understanding – all local organizations that are producing data, and especially all public agencies, should present their data as data tables that can be downloaded, and as charts that can be quickly viewed by interested members of the public. This should be easily accessible and viewable on their respective web sites.

There is a fancy name for this called data visualization – its possible to produce some creative charts and interactive data explorers. That would be nice – but a good first step would be to provide the data and a simple chart!

Therefore, the first recommendation is Charts – and  – “share the data”. A sub recommendation is to provide the data table and explain why the data starts where it does and why it ends where it does. No more censoring the data to show the trend some one wanted.

Several agencies or organizations do an outstanding job of displaying the data they collect in relatively easy to use tables and charts. They are doing wonderful work that is under appreciated.


  • Community Indicators of Spokane, operated by Eastern Washington University. Outstanding web site.
  • WorkForceExplorer.com, operated by the Washington State Employment Security Department. Click on Researchers/data analysts, and then Numbers and Trends or Industry Trends.
  • City of Spokane Mayor’s Office 2011 Budget Proposal. Good news is that the downloadable Powerpoint presentation has lots of charts.  The bad news is that this should be on a web page and not require installing special software, and the data itself is in text tables in a PDF file. It should be available in an .xls or .csv file format so that others can ask “What if?” questions. There also need to be some long term trend charts. How much was spent in 1995? 2000? 2005?  How much tax revenue was collected in past years?  How many employees were there in 2000 or 2005? See how the data could be turned into useful information?
  • This year, the City of Spokane produced a map showing where roads had been plowed of snow, and which roads were up next. Bravo!
  • Washington Regional Economic Analysis Project. “Regional analysis … without paralysis.” As they say, “Retrieve-Organize-Synthesize-Analyze-Diagnose … with the click of a mouse!”  Another outstanding web site.
  • Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction “State Report Card”. Excellent. Some school districts republish selected data on their own web sites (very good), some provide prominent links (very good too), some provide slightly hidden links on sub-menus or pages, and some provide no links (not good at all).
  • Washington State University Office of Institutional Research. Raw data is available as downloadable .xls spreadsheet files. Would be nice to have some charts of the data right on the web site but otherwise, this is very useful.  Strangely enough, though, an amusing example from WSU’s press releases will be featured in Part 2 regarding hiding something.
  • Spokane Community College Office of Institutional Research. Good but I could not find contemporary graduation rates, a rather important metric to understand how they are doing.
  • Eastern Washington Office of Institutional Research.

All of the above provide great templates for local government, other agencies and organizations to use in designing their own ways to improve their sharing of data with the public.

Recommendations 2: Part 1

This seems obvious but it is not yet widely adopted:

  • Use existing web sites to deliver the raw data and information directly to the public
  • Provide data tables in downloadable formats for public access
  • Present all data in readily accessible charts
  • Provide an explanation for the data – how was it measured, acquired, and why is data available only for the selected dates.

I worry that we may not see many charts from local agency and organization web sites today because they never created them for internal use either. They could be managing in the dark, making decisions without access to critical information, and making less than ideal choices.

Part 2 will look at great ways to “hide the decline”. When stuff goes south, there are many tricks to use to hide that from the public. Part 2 will look at some local examples.

Latest State Wide Employment Data

Below is the table of data from the Washington Employment Security Department current through February 2011. WESD will release local area reports, including Spokane MSA, on March 24th. If I had time, I would try to convert this in to some sort of visual representation but alas, I do not have the time this week.

A summary of the statewide report is here.

In the table that follows, original report formatting is lost and this may lead to reader confusion. For example, “Manufacturing” is a summary of the next several sub sectors in manufacturing, shown below the row containing “Manufacturing”. Also, this chart shows all sectors tallied for the state. When we get to Spokane, there are significantly fewer sectors than those shown here.

So that this web site is easier to read, the data table appears after the break  – click on the Read more link to continue.

Read more of this post

Unemployment data update (U.S.)

Yesterday, the BLS announced a slight drop in unemployment. As always, it helps to look at the data, not just the headline number.

Unemployment dropped, in part, however, because the workforce itself is smaller – that is, the “labor force participation rate”.  We want to see the black line, below, rising. This is a recession lagging indicator and generally rises after the downward trend of the recession has ended. At this time, the employment-population ratio is at a level seen back in 1978. The participation rate itself is indicated with the bright blue line – that too is still falling.

The unemployment rate can go down, in this situation, because in part, the participation rate is falling. In English, that means fewer people are looking for work, perhaps because they have given up for now. A lower participation rate also means that our economy is not functioning at its potential maximum capacity – literally, we have resources sitting around not being used.

On the other hand, we need to look at the detailed breakdown of what jobs are increasing and which are decreasing. I have not had time to do that. I have heard that factory and construction jobs have increased, which would be good.

Washington’s Workforceexplorer web site will have updates twice in the next few weeks with local data.



Average work hours, per week, remain low. This means more people have part time jobs or reduced work hours – More information on historical average work weeks is here.

Seasonally adjusted hours series from the Current Population Survey.

Health care sector versus public administration unemployment claims

The following charts are from WorkforceExplorer.com.

The first chart shows initial unemployment claims from the health care sector. This sector is supposed to be the largest “private” sector growth area for jobs in Spokane. Consequently, what this chart shows is surprising:

The next chart shows initial unemployment claims by those in the “Public Administration” sector.  This chart also shows something surprising:

Notice the unusual cyclical nature of unemployment claims?

Something is not right with this – it looks like there is an annual, predictable cycle of layoffs – and the likely rehiring of the same workers a short time later.

In the interim, the laid off workers collect unemployment? What explains this unusual pattern.


Yet another historical Spokane economy report

Planting a tree in Spokane Washington, United ...

Image by 350.org via Flickr

From Maximizing Spokane’s Assets – Focus 21 – April 2004:

More striking was the comparison of Spokane’s socio- economic indicators to the State of Washington and the United States – significantly below averages for both. The more startling indicators were:

  • Up until 2000 job growth always exceed labor force and population growth, since 2000 that trend has reversed,
  • Unemployment exceeded 6%, the highest ever in Spokane’s history
  • End of 2003, over 14,000 were unemployed and over 65,000 were registered for new

or better jobs – an indicator of the underemployment in the Spokane area.
Cornerstones of the economy are small business (86% under 20 employees) and a regional business services hub, which includes two growth sectors – health and higher education. Fairchild AFB has a major economic impact on the local economy fueling business services. Primary industries – which also have a major affect on the income characteristics of the economy (typically offer higher than average job earnings) – need to be retained and grown.

This review is a Red Flag to the community that the economic growth Spokane enjoyed in the ‘90’s is over and most likely, with the major declines in the area’s primary metals sector and new global competition, outsourcing and corporate mergers/consolidations, will never return without significant focused effort on economic development, job creation and innovation.

Interesting. This concurs with my own findings across the board.

Silicon Valley has the same # of jobs as it did in 1995

A view of downtown San Jose, the self-proclaim...

Image via Wikipedia

Total job growth has been nil over 15 years.

At about 850,000, the number of jobs in the valley today is about the same as in 1995, the year Yahoo was founded and three years before Google was born. Over the same period, the population has grown by 20 percent.

Lots of economics verbiage, much of it hand waving, expended trying to explain until we get to:

When Khanh Le and his partner, Khamvong Thammasouk, co-founded San Jose touch-technology startup Borei in February 2009, “We decided the best way to build a company is with research and development, sales and marketing and intellectual property creation at our headquarters here in San Jose, and manufacturing overseas, which is very similar to a lot of companies. There’s nothing new about that. It’s just the reality.”

via Silicon Valley jobs: A recurring cycle of boom and bust – SiliconValley.com.

Similarly, much high skilled software development has been moved overseas.

The general response is to say we all need even more education. Today’s Master’s degree has become the Bachelor’s degree of the 1970s[1].

Home grown innovation is being exported – and government stimulus checks used to buy consumer goods made in China – are serving to stimulate overseas economies. Here in Spokane we seek to create an innovation-based economy  – but we may end up running faster and faster only to be stuck mostly in the same place?

At some point, leadership needs a no-holds barred discussion about what’s happening and what policy choices we need to make.


[1] In the early 1970s about 12% of the population had earned a 4 year college degree. In the 25 to 29 age group today, the percentage is about 1 in 3. Today, about 10% earn a Master’s degree or higher (in some fields, the ratio is much higher), which is about how many earned a 4 year degree in the early 1970s.  Thus, the Masters degree is roughly equivalent to the Bachelor’s degree 35 years ago.

Where future jobs will be … in Spokane?

Seattle Times bus ad

Image by Oran Viriyincy via Flickr

• Professional fields with higher pay. Think lawyers, research scientists and software engineers.

• Lower-skill and lower-paying jobs, such as home health-care aides and store clerks.

via Nation & World | Future jobs: More skills or less pay | Seattle Times Newspaper.

And where will they be in Spokane? Sadly, group #2 – plus government/education and health care.. See the Related items list for the background details.


Epilogue – Corvallis, OR is also seeing a drop off in its tech sector – note the similarity to Spokane

Read more of this post

History of Spokane Economic Plans – Part 2 – The issues of 1995 and 1999

Monroe St. Bridge, Spokane (LOC)

Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

A 1995 economic study produced by the “PACE Group” made the following findings about wages in Spokane (Source:  Taken from page 29 of SpokaneStudy1999-1.pdf).

Quick summary:

  • Spokane has long suffered from “enduring” low wages and high poverty rates – except in health services (and today also government/education)
  • Wages are low but costs are not commensurately low
  • Spokane has become a service-based economy  (more so than then as most of the technology manufacturers they mentioned, then, are now gone, Kaiser Mead Smelter, Agilent, Itronix and others.)

Note: This is a continuation of posts about what we knew “back then” about Spokane’s economy. I am showing that the situation we find ourselves in today, with  low wages and over reliance on government (including education) and health care has been here for a long time and that real progress towards meaningful solutions has not emerged in perhaps 20 years time. This is a look at the historical perspective.

The following is quoted from the 1999 report summarizing the 1995 PACE Group study:

  • Low annual wage levels in services other than health services ($14,734) and retail trade ($13,918) results in 45% of the workforce earning less than $15,000 per year;
  • 12.5% of Spokane County families live at or below the poverty level, as compared to just 7.8% statewide and 10.0% nationally;  21.7% of Spokane County children live in poverty compared to 14.0% statewide and 17.9% nationally;
  • From a marketing perspective, Spokane may not be seen as a very good market because the region’s Effective Buying Income ranks 128th out of 316 metropolitan areas in the U.S., next to last among communities judged competitive with Spokane by the PACE Group; and
  • While Spokane may be able to market itself as a low labor cost area, it is not a low living cost area;  the cost of living index for Spokane is 106.7, that is, 6.7% higher than the average of all areas included in the index;  the index for housing costs in Spokane stands at 131.9; housing costs rose 46.7% between 1991 and 1994, contributing to the high housing index and the above average overall index.
  • The PACE findings about low wages in services and retail, and high incidence of poverty became key issues in public discussions about economic development strategy.  ….  a new strategic plan called the “New Century Plan” identifies several key benchmarks for progress including bringing average private sector earnings per job up to or beyond the national level and reducing the incidence poverty to below national and statewide levels (New Century Plan, p. 2).


    Current advantages include low energy costs, a high quality of life, strong health care services, and a regional service center serving a variety of business needs.

On page 30 of that report, they summarize findings of Shaun O’L. Higgins, the director of marketing of the Spokesman-Review newspaper:

  • a lower percentage of minority population;
  • lower median household income and wage levels;
  • fewer adults employed full-time;
  • fewer working women; and
  • more adults who have taken at least some college level courses.

Next, they summarize several studies about Spokane’s economy:

Examining all of these studies, several relatively consistent findings emerge, describing enduring  trends of the Spokane area economy.  These findings include:

  • low wages and high poverty rates
  • a service oriented economy serving a broad, multi-state, inland region;
  • low overall contributions of manufacturing to total employment and income, but some outstanding manufacturing companies in both mature and emerging high tech sectors; [[ many of the outstanding ones have left since this report was written ]]
  • a relatively large health care sector given the size of the urban area in which it is located;
  • workforce skill deficits in both advanced technical occupations and low skill entry-level positions;
  • a high quality of life, based on utilization of the scenic qualities of the natural environment and its capacity to support recreational activities; and
  • slightly higher than average cost of living, which coupled with low wages, presents a challenge to the many area workers with quite low earnings.

Given the overall purpose of this study, examining the potential contribution of higher education to the future development of the Spokane area, several of these key features of the Spokane economy can be seen as problems that should be remedied, and problems that higher education is a key to resolving:

  • skill deficiencies in the workforce, especially for technical positions;
  • support for a strong and growing health care sector; and potential to build a stronger high tech sector.

However, another enduring characteristic of the region is low wage levels compared to other major metropolitan areas in the U.S.  While these low wage levels can be seen as an advantage to local businesses, they may contribute both to low skill levels in the workforce and they may inhibit the willingness of local people to invest in higher education.