“The X Report”

A review of some “big picture” economic indicators for the Spokane area.

Spokane Airport passenger usage remains weak – now less than in 1995.

chart_1 (1)

We call this “growth”, of course. (See the Comments to this post to see how a rise in passenger use was called a positive economic indicator by local promoters in 2001, 2005 and 2006 but when passenger levels declined they now pretend passenger usage no longer matters. Right.)

Felts Field air operations fell off a cliff:

chart_2 (2)

Total air operations in the area have collapsed (but local political leaders refer to this as “continued growth of aviation!” – may be if we turn the chart upside down!)

CombinedSIAFeltsAllOps-3Non-stop year-round destination cities have declined from 18 to 11 (including the subsidized daily flight to Los Angeles).

The rate of growth in jobs (for the entire County) has slowed. The area is no longer producing jobs at the same rate as natural population growth (from births and inbound migration, over time). That means the population is getting larger but the number of jobs is not keeping up. Here’s a chart highlighting the slow down in job growth:

SpokaneCountyJobGrowthRateSlowing

Spokane County non-farm jobs trend – mostly flat since 1998.

2013JanBLSTotalEmployed

City of Spokane jobs have been going down for about two decades – there is no increase in net jobs since the mid 1990s.

Can you spot the increase in jobs created by the Convention Center expansions? The total number of jobs in the City of Spokane has continued to fall, even after passing their expansion initiatives. (Chart from US BLS, updated to early 2014.) The City of Spokane has flat lined. 

LAUCT536700000000005_742370_1398301192417

Unfortunately, Spokane was ranked as the worst metro area out of 100 for job growth in a 2012 poll.

While the United States has recovered nearly all jobs lost since the 2008 downturn, and Washington State has recovered more than all the jobs lost since the downturn, Spokane County has recovered about half the jobs lost. Here are the charts for the U.S. as a whole, the State of Washington, and then Spokane County.

(At the end of 2014, there are some indications that the US economy may be headed into a slowdown. If this happens, the effects on Spokane would be bad, very bad, as Spokane has not yet fully recovered from the 2008 downturn.) (deleted as the economic situation seems to have stabilized since that was written)

Specifically:

  • US jobs regained – about 100%
  • WA jobs regained – more than 100%
  • Spokane County jobs regained: 52% using seasonally adjusted totals, or 44% using non seasonally adjusted data

United States

(From US BLS)

CES0000000001_729328_1398279732234

Washington State

SMS53000000000000001_729393_1398279809663

Spokane County

SMS53440600000000001_729435_1398279884691

Median Family Income Compared to Other Washington Cities

Spokane’s economic situation is not good: Spokane ranks 53d out of 59 Washington cities for median family income

Spokane’s Housing Stock is Old – Highlighting the Limited Economic Growth in the Area

Growing cities, with growing economies, show newer housing – Spokane has a stock of old housing, indicating low growth. The boom years are obvious in this chart – 20% of homes here were built in 1900-1919 (mining boom), and 31% in 1940-1959  (aluminum processing boom, post World War II growth of families):

app

Here is a typical growing city housing age pattern (in this example, Olympia, WA) – in a modern, growing city, you can see that more homes are built to meet the demand of contemporary growth.

app

Spokane has essentially no growth and hence, very little new home construction compared to thriving cities. More example cities are here.

Home Sales

Chart of the number of home sales from 2000 to 2014 (only through spring as this chart is slightly out of date):

image The original chart for the above (from Trulia.com) used a logarithmic scale for the Y-Axis which makes the peaks and valleys nearly flat.  A software tool was used to convert the log scale chart into a linearly scaled Y-Axis to show the trend in a format that most readers understand.

The next chart shows that median sales prices are basically flat since 2006.

Spokane-Median

Income and spending lag:

This chart shows how taxable spending per household has trended downwards in the past decade. The data for this chart is based on retail sales taxes collected through 2011. Since then (not shown in chart), retails sales have begun to grow again.

The blue line shows real median household income while the red line is an indicator of spending per household.

SpokaneMedianHouseholdIncome

Per Capita Income Trend Is Downwards

This chart has not been updated since 2008 but per WSU’s CORE research report, current per capita income is at 2007 levels. Per capita income is continuing to sink over the long term, relative to elsewhere. The lines in this chart indicate Spokane per capita income as a percent of the average per capita income in the state of Washington (red) and the U.S. as a whole (blue). Over time, the per capita income in Spokane, relative to everywhere else, goes down. Note that GSI will be happy to show you a chart of rising per capita income in the area – their chart is true too. But the problem is that Spokane incomes rise much slower than elsewhere such that over time, Spokane residents fall further and further behind the rest of the state and the country.

The Spokane County GDP per capita is unchanged from 2001 through 2011 (see bottom line in chart) – in other worlds, flat lined, like Convention Center attendance (well, not quite the same – the PFD’s facility usage actually went down over this period):

GDPPerCapita

A chart of pay in Spokane County versus King County

Attracting high skilled talent for high paying job categories is tough due to the large difference in pay between Spokane and the other big city in Washington:

SpokaneVsKing

The next chart has not been updated but the trend remains the same today. Incomes in the rest of the state climb twice as fast as those in Spokane.  The blue line represents the rate of increase in Washington State; the red line is the rate of increase in Spokane County. Over 30 years, Spokane pay is falling further and further behind the rest of the state.

SpokaneBirthsByMedicaid

Transfer payments are now about 23% of area personal income.

Transfer payments are primarily Federal payments made without a contemporary service or product delivered in return. Examples include disability payments, unemployment compensation, Medicare/Medicaid payments, government pensions and other government benefit programs. In other words, almost $1 out of every $4 here is government payouts, not earnings from contemporary work. The problem is not that there are transfer payments – the problem is that the steady growth in transfer payments is not sustainable.

Spokane’s Heavily Subsidized Economy

The primary purpose of the Spokane Public Facilities District, like nearly all municipal convention centers, is to provide a tax subsidy to the local hotel and restaurant industry. This use of publicly funded convention centers as a hidden subsidy of local hotels is widely documented in the convention center industry literature. In Spokane, it is codified – one member of the five member Board of the Spokane PFD is required to be someone working in the hotel industry. There is no requirement that, say, the PFD Board include a member of the general public to represent the interests of Spokane residents and taxpayers (the peons do not rank in this community).

The long vacant Ridpath Hotel may get re-opened and turned into downtown condos some day. But only with substantial tax subsides. About 1/4th of the cost is proposed to be funded by tax credits issued after declaring the not very old hotel as a historic building.  The city is also proposing to give Federal Housing and Urban Development grants to the developer. More taxpayer subsidies for downtown.

The proposed Spokane Field House in downtown is an extension of the PFD’s subsidy program to local hotels. Taxpayers will fund a downtown sports complex with the goal of bringing in some outside visitors to fill downtown hotels and restaurants. This is an indirect subsidy to Walt Worthy’s “convention center” hotel across the street.

Indeed, the PFD’s own economic study shows who actually benefits – and its hotels and restaurants:

WhoBenefits

The sad thing about all these subsidies to the hotel industry is that they do not actually work.

Here is a chart of hospitality industry jobs in Spokane County.  After THREE expansions of the Convention Center, we have fewer jobs in the hotel industry than we did in 1999 when we first began expanding the Convention Center!

Hospitality industry employment chart from the US BLS from 1993 to 2014:

SMU53440607000000001_730618_1398282555622

The downtown meme of ever expanding public facilities and more subsidies turns out not to have met the original claims for increasing jobs. Today we have fewer hotel jobs and fewer overall jobs in the City of Spokane than before the expansion. Expanding the Convention Center has resulted in FEWER JOBS.

Nothing happens in Spokane unless the local oligarchs are subsidized by the taxpayers. This is a form of transfer payments from poor people to developers.

Now we hang our hat on future medical school with an exaggerated economic benefit calculation  (local promoters nationwide engage in absurd and inflated exaggerations of all economic studies – most of these studies are not worth the digital ink they’ve spilled – same for Spokane). And of course, salvation will come with a heated pedestrian bike bridge!

Spokane needs real industry, designing and building products. From insect traps to pharmaceutical manufacturing to perhaps restoration of the lost high tech manufacturing sector, these are the sectors that generate real growth and jobs. But we just keep subsidizing downtown businesses that fail to deliver on their promises. Always have, and always will. Consequently, Spokane is going no where – the trends all remain negative (see charts above).

The Primary Economic Cluster in Spokane is Land Development

The primary economic cluster of Spokane is manipulating government so land speculators can profit. Here is a quote from Bob Herold of the Inlander:

“Well, I’ve learned that in Spokane, economic development most often begins and ends with making a profit off land speculation. It’s a cultural thing, and government’s job here is to help make the speculation pay off.”

And this business model works well for those who have influence. The largest media operator is one of the largest landowners in the region and has a long history of using their media influence to push government programs that benefit the owners (see The Fancher Report, the non-fiction novel Breaking Blue, or this blog for examples).

Contemporary examples include:  repeated Convention Center expansions (and their inability to meet any objectives) the “grand iconic unique in the world (except its notheated pedestrian/bike bridge, a proposed downtown “trolley” to benefit downtown, the “growing University District” (whose numbers show no growth) and the past and future for a light rail line that passes by the oligarchs’ properties runs from the underused airport to downtown and then to Liberty Lake (remember the two votes on that last decade?)

Update: Another economic cluster is government funded torture research hidden away in our small town. It’s a big industry in Spokane. Really big.

Crime

We cannot draw an accurate long term crime trend chart because of changes made in the reporting system last decade that resulted in a drop in crime reports. We’ll leave this topic with this chart – in 2011 and 2010, the auto theft rate in Spokane was the 4th highest in the nation but dropped in 2012 to 9th place:

image004

Accountability

A related crime problem is the culture and general corruption of the police in Spokane.  A week hardly goes by without yet another police scandal – from having sex on duty to running steroids and drugs to shooting people in the back of the head to killing Otto Zehm. This is likely a symptom of the difficulty in attracting high quality, high performing individuals to Spokane. And that is not just a police problem but one that impacts a wide swath of organizations both public and private.

We end up with local organizations having the same leadership for a quarter century, a sure sign of stagnation. From head dog catcher to GSI to the PFD to the STA -while some organizations are effective, some are not – yet their leadership is held on forever. There is no accountability for the PFD’s failure (by the core metrics of attendees and local jobs) or GSI’s long term ineffectiveness (as seen in the overall local economy numbers).

Bad leaders come to Spokane to retire on the job. And no one cares. In fact, one Washington State labor economist concluded that Spokane attracts unemployed people 🙂

Mental Health

Youth suicide rate is 4 to 6 times greater than the State of Washington and Washington’s suicide rate is higher than the national rate.

SpoSuicides2005-2009Youth

How Bad is the Suicide Rate?

(There are counties, especially with high populations of native American populations living in poverty, such as in Alaska, where the suicide rates are much higher.)

Update July 5, 2018

Spokane depression rate higher than state, national averages according to a study by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.

For each successful suicide, there are 7 hospitalizations for attempted suicides, and 15 ER visits for suicide. There are even more cases of depression that result in 9-1-1 calls to the police (but which do not end up in an ER), and even more cases than that of people who never seek help. (Also see these youth suicide statistics). Multiplying that times the rates in the chart above yields a staggering number of severely depressed people in the area. Throw in the reports of bodies turning up in parks and rivers and you get the picture.

Nearby Kootenai County, Idaho has the 2nd highest rate of suicide in Idaho.

The Spokane Regional Health District says health is an indicator of the economy. This is an indicator of despair and hopelessness. And its off the radar as recommendations for reporters discourage reporting of suicides.

Related to the above, the annual days of sunshine in Spokane is on par with Seattle. But don’t tell that to the Spokane Visitors Bureau which believes Spokane has 260 days of clear skies per year!

Telling Outright Lies is the Local Pastime

A selection of prominent lies and the liars who tell them is listed here.

The basic culture of Spokane seems to be based on lies and deceit, causing the area to repeatedly earn a designation as the Scam and Fraud Capitol of America.

The Problem is Ignorance 

The long term trend in the Spokane area economy has been poor – its been treading water for 15 years.

In spite of much media PR puffery, people have a sense that things are bad. And the data confirm it is a bad situation.

Much of the local media act as cheerleaders, engage in “errors of omission” (a method of telling a lie which fits right into the local culture), and hide poor performance of elected and non-elected leaders. Failed leaders are not held accountable – instead, long term declining attendance at Spokane Public Facilities District is defended and actively covered up by the local newspaper. A decline in airport usage is called “continued growth” – and not one person in Spokane’s media even bats an eye at the egregious lie.  Visit Spokane claims it is nearly always clear and sunny in Spokane. A local promoter misquotes a tech industry publication to falsely claim Spokane is a high tech hot spot (when the publication actually said Spokane is NOT a high tech hot spot).

To this day, the Spokesman-Review is pained to present data in easy to understand charts, even when the State provides the charts for free. For example, here is the September 2014 employment chart and here is how they babbled on about this in words:

employment

The chart cannot be spun – Spokane has recovered about half of the jobs lost in the economic downturn while the State and the nation have recovered more than 100%. By hiding this from readers and viewers, Spokane’s local media censors the news through “lying by omission”.  Except for The Inlander, perhaps. (Note – former SR staffer Ryan Pitts left the SR to work on CensusReporter, a tool to make it easy for reporters to obtain Census data in easy to read charts. Tools exist. It’s not hard to illustrate stores with charts. But its hard to spin actual data.)

The outright lies and exaggerations are non-stop – hence, Spokane remains the scam and fraud capitol of America – but the zero credibility local media itself is complicit in re-telling and defending the lies (follow the links on this blog to see specific examples of the local media’s participation).

When land speculation is one of the top 3 industry clusters and the media is conflicted with land ownership and development,  reporting is warped.

The public has been intentionally kept in the dark as to the true state of Spokane – but many have seen these issues for a long time. Out of town visitors arrive and often the first thing they say is “Spokane looks like a run down dump” (check out the weeds growing out of the streets and sidewalks in August and you can see why).

This blog shed a light on the truth that has been hidden from the public – by showing the actual data, in simple to read charts, that directly contradict the local memes. Data is the enemy of propagandists in the local media.

The X Report

This site will remain on line as “The X Report“, just as “The Fancher Report” (summary here) lives on today, or how local corruption is documented in “Breaking Blue” or at Camus Magazine and other web sites.  It is no longer safe to publish skeptical inquiry on the Internet.

Before I moved to Spokane, an old friend who grew up here said, “X, Spokane is just a small town. Only bigger.”

Was not sure what he meant back then – but now I know: And he was right!

Nothing has changed in decades. Three decades of economic studies reached identical conclusions and were filed on dusty shelves never to be looked at again. Spokane remains behind the times, never reaching up to its potential as the 2nd largest city in Washington – but always hoping for an external savior (the current meme is the medical school brouhaha) to drop in and save the day. Before that it was regional health care. Before that Spokane was going to be an information technology center on par with Austin, Texas or may be even Silicon Valley. Before that it was going to be a manufacturing mecca. So we come up with an incoherent cluster strategy for economic growth.

But nothing has fundamentally changed. At this point, its down to more land speculation and more transfers to the oligarchs who will bleed the cash cow dry as long as they can keep it bleeding. And not one god damned local politician gives a hoot at the obvious decay and decline – they just continue to play along to earn bennies for themselves.

And because of that, this might be the very last post on this blog. The web site will stay online and be known as “The X Report”.

——

This blog is taking a break. No idea if it will return. Hard to imagine but 1/4th of all the posts made on this web site were never published! There are nearly 200 posts sitting in draft form 🙂 They were not published for many reasons including timeliness (the information was useful for a limited time), insufficient time to complete the post, insufficient data, or for a few I feared I would be run out of town if I let them fly. Ouch!

Hospital-sector recession looming?

The two primary industry clusters in Spokane are regional health care delivery and government.  Nationally, the health care sector is seeing signs of an industry recession and layoffs.

The Harvard Business Review thinks the growth in health care jobs is about to halt because the health care industry has been adding jobs faster than it is adding patient volumes – leading to long term, year over year declines in productivity.  A long term year-over-year productivity decline is not sustainable.

This change has apparently already started and could have impacts on Spokane with its over-sized health care sector:

Hospitals, a reliable source of employment growth in the recession and its aftermath, are starting to cut thousands of jobs amid falling insurance payments and in-patient visits.

via Layoffs reflect hospital recession | The Clarion-Ledger | clarionledger.com.

Potential reductions are not a certainty but are a possibility.

The following chart illustrates the dramatic impact the health care sector has had on Spokane County employment. Watch the blue line near the top. If the recent decline were to accelerate, per the above linked news report, this would be of concern to the Spokane area.

image002

 

The next chart is from the Washington Employment Security Department. Their horizontal chart has been flipped and rotated into a vertical format as it makes the sector size comparison easier for us humans. As you can see, the health care sector is the largest single employment sector in Spokane County.

2013MaySectorEmplRotated

 

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 Suicide Rate

Learning that someone I knew had committed suicide gave me pause – since living in Spokane I have known 6 people who committed suicide, plus one attempted suicide.

Curious, I looked up some data. The youth suicide rate in Spokane is 4 to 6 times greater than in the State.

Youth Suicide Rate 2005-2009

SpoSuicides2005-2009Youth

Read more of this post

June employment update for Spokane County

2011JuneEmp

A broader look at historical employment. This older chart was created from US BLS data and within the resolution of the chart, is still accurate. As you can  see, employment is about where it was in the boom years of 1998-2000.

2013JanBLSTotalEmployed

Read more of this post

“Encouraging signs emerging from Great Recession”

From airplane parts to medical devices, cookware, pharmaceuticals and mining equipment, factories across the region are collecting contracts that square with the national trend of burgeoning productivity.

Even though manufacturers rely more and more upon automation and greater productivity from every worker, hiring is on the rise. In Spokane, for example, there were 15,325 people employed by manufacturing firms in December, the most since late 2009.

via “Encouraging Signs Emerging from Great Recession”, Spokesman-Review.

It’s a rainy morning and unfortunately I have not yet forgotten how to make a chart. So let’s chart some actual data!

Historical Manufacturing Employment in Spokane County

Read more of this post

Forbes again calls Spokane the “Scam Capital of America”

The Merry Scamsters of Spokane Strike Again! – Forbes.

Oh great.

Read more of this post

Spokane’s North Corridor Half Billion $ Boondoggle

Corridor funding may hit dead end – Spokesman.com – Sept. 4, 2011.

This is the half billion $ freeway from nowhere to nowhere in north Spokane.

Spokane’s economy is fading because leadership blew money on projects that did not deliver a positive return on investment to the whole community but instead benefited powerful and well connected rent-seekers siphoning public money for projects that benefit themselves.

Read more of this post

Spokane area unemployment for July 2011

  • July 2011 preliminary unemployment estimate is 9.0%.
  • Total non-farm employed: 201,100 (or 5,100 fewer than in June – that is bad)
  • Total labor force: 225,220
  • June’s 9.1% preliminary number was revised to 8.9% (this is good)
  • 2010 average unemployment figure was 9.74%. From Jan-Jul, 2011, the average is 9.514%.
In the data table that follows, the drop in non-farm employment to 201,100 is troubling. That is about 16,000 fewer jobs than in the same month in 2008 and is fewer jobs than in July of last year.
Year over Year Changes
While the employment situation has stabilized, the following chart shows that the area has continued to lose jobs.  We should watch this chart carefully over the next few months to see if we are headed back into recession, or just bouncing along the break even point.
This chart shows the year-over-year change in employment. All of the recent green bars below the zero line indicate losses. We do not want to stabilize here as that would mean we have stabilized at a new, lower employment level.

Low demand for highly educated, high skilled workers in Spokane

As shown in the post, below, pay for high skilled private sector workers in Spokane County (law, business, science and technology) is surprisingly low.

What It Means

  • The demand for high skilled workers in Spokane County is low.
  • There are about twice as many people with a 4-year degree as there are job openings needing a 4-year degree qualified worker*.
  • There are about three times as many people with graduate degrees as there are job openings needing a graduate degree qualified worker*.
  • The low demand for highly educated workers in Spokane is a likely reason wages for the highly skilled are so low.
  • About 2/3ds of the job openings require a high school diploma or less.

Chart comes from the Community Indicators of Spokane.

Besides the “Recommendations” posted in the right most column of this web site, what else might be done to create an ecosystem demanding higher skilled workers in Spokane?

Update: Local PR news article refers to Spokane as a “blue collar city”, which helps to explain the low wage issue. This article is part of a lobbying effort to continue receiving a 30% taxpayer funded subsidy to movie makers in Washington. For amusement, see how the local TV news hacked this story down to a few meaningless sentences. Funny.

* About 25% of adults here have a 4-year degree but the demand is about 12% to 15% of job openings. About 10% have a graduate degree but the demand is about 2% to 4% of job openings. Spikes in 4-year degree job openings in 2007-2009 have to do with the recession when lower skilled workers were typically the first to get fired and higher skilled workers were the first to be hired.

Comparison of average wages between Spokane and King Counties

A sample of job categories was selected from the Workforce Explorer web site for Industry Trends. A few were dropped out because the job category did not exist in both counties.

  • Most Spokane County workers are paid less and professional high skilled private sector workers are paid a lot less.
  • While we have come to expect lower pay in Spokane, some of the differences are shocking.
Table of average wages in $s in Spokane versus King County. The difference is shown in the right most column. Bright green is higher. Dark green is “close”. Bright red is -24% or worse difference.
Occupation Spokane King County Spokane Pay
Public Schools/Education
Teacher 33207 36051 -8%
Elementary Teacher 58227 55921 4%
Education administrator 100703 102037 -1%
Government workers
Firefighter 61987 72591 -15%
Police and Sheriff 64560 72205 -11%
Zoologists and wildlife biologists 57261 62254 -8%
Health Care
Pharmacist 107792 95782 13%
Registered Nurse 65735 77800 -16%
Physician assistant 88684 100508 -12%
Dentist 147660 159630 -7%
Nursing aides 24342 30917 -21%
Private Sector Jobs
Science and Technology
Industrial engineer 69391 83122 -17%
Mechanical engineer 62946 82890 -24%
Software engineer, apps 70504 94071 -25%
Software engineer, systems 74135 99318 -25%
Computer programmer 54288 95782 -43%
Chemist 50917 73321 -31%
Chemical technician 38653 35160 10%
Law & Business
Lawyer 90215 118674 -24%
Paralegal 35344 53588 -34%
Marketing manager 108781 125807 -14%
Sales manager 82235 119374 -31%
Advertising/promotions manager 48198 101550 -53%
Architect 83145 72237 15%
Editors 58218 61492 -5%
Reporters and correspondents 40346 54105 -25%
Labor
Roofer 35953 46263 -22%
Truck Driver 39584 43626 -9%
Sheet metal worker 35946 57792 -38%
Cooks, all other 23731 29322 -19%
Retail sales 21486 24151 -11%
Bus and truck mechanic 42489 51252 -17%
Hairdresser, stylist, cosmetologist 33459 32702 2%
Mobile heavy equip. mechanic 41968 59303 -29%

Wage data from the State’s Workforce Explorer Industry Trends section.

What It Means
  • Education sector pays about the same.
  • Government and health care pay some what less.
  • Private sector highly educated workers are paid remarkably less.
  • Those considering moving to Spokane need to consider the income ramifications of their career sector.
  • At present pay levels, there will not be a science or technology cluster in Spokane. With extraordinarily low pay, Spokane will have difficulty attracting high quality scientists and engineers needed to create a regionally or nationally competitive science and technology cluster.
  • At present pay levels, the same issue impacts creation of national classes businesses.
  • “Editors” average is about the same in both counties. This may account for why there is little news coverage of the chronic low wage problem in Spokane – low wages do not affect them!  But reporters’ pay – ick!
Would be interesting to compare pay scales to Benton-Franklin counties, and to Clark County (Vancouver, Wa) area.

Related articles

Inflation Adjusted Average Wages in Spokane County

Good news – inflation adjusted average wages in Spokane County have gone up from 1990 to 2010.

Bad news – wage growth from 2001 to 2000 was 13.7% but wage growth from 2001 to 2009 was 5.5%.

  • The second period was selected to start from the lowest post 2000 wage (the bottom in 2001) to the end of the series in 2010.
  • The first period was selected to start in 1991 and run to 2000 (local peak) so that the same number of years would be in both groups.

What it means:  Wage growth in Spokane was much lower after the peak in 2000 and is now growing less than half as fast as prior years.

Oddity: Why did average wages shoot up in 2008 and 2009 in the midst of the worst recession since The Great Depression? Lower wage earners were laid off their jobs. Eliminating lower wage workers causes the average to rise.

Bottom line: Since 2000, average pay in Spokane has risen at a slower rate than prior to 2000. That’s unfortunate.

Reminder: The “average” is not the same as the “median”.

Spokane’s Trolley to Personal Profits

A San Diego U2 trolley in the newest color scheme.

Image via Wikipedia

“there’s no clear evidence trolleys bring growth, but it’s clear they’re expensive.”

via NEWS/COMMENTARY – Spokane considers an electric trolley.

If trolleys really bring growth, shouldn’t we run them in Hillyard and along the vacant buildings along Sprague in Spokane Valley before running them downtown?

STA Votes To Approve Electric Trolley

STA Votes To Approve Electric Trolley – News Story – KXLY Spokane.

The initiative next moves at hyper speed to the Spokane City Council on Monday night (it is probably the last item on the agenda as RES 11-55), presumably so opponents will have a hard time mustering opposition speakers.

The STA is in process of cutting bus service by about 20% for the rest of us, but would seek a sales tax for all of the urban areas of Spokane County to pay for much of the 3 mile long, $36 million electric trolley.

Does Spokane need a 3 mile long electric trolley paid for by taxpayers to benefit downtown property owners?

Some facts about Spokane:

Naturally, what this town needs is a “cool factor” electric bus in the downtown core that serves key power brokers and eventually Kendall Yards, where residents pay no property taxes for 12 years. The head of the STA said the “cool factor” is why we need this.
The actual purpose of the trolley is to take money from the taxpayers to benefit downtown power brokers.

What we need instead are initiatives with a positive, long term return on investment. Not concrete pouring initiatives as a short term jobs program that are intended to benefit local power brokers.

I wrote the following in April, but did not previously publish it:

Transit expert praises STA’s, city’s planning – Spokesman.com – April 4, 2011.

So begins the pitch to enrich the downtown core while the rest of city and county remain economic disaster zones. The downtown trolley is a done deal.

There is little evidence that downtown trolleys spawn economic growth but during the past year they are the rage amongst top down, centralized urban planning groups. Name a mid-sized city – Boise, Yakima, Tacoma, Cincinnati, Huntington, VA, Tucson and dozens and dozens more – all of them have built or are proposing downtown trolleys. Why? Because the Federal government will pay for up to 80% for “fixed guideway” transportation. That rules out buses but permits rail, monorail, buses on rubber wheels but with fixed overhead wires (“electric trolley”), and rail lines. This becomes an inflexible permanent transportation solution  a la pouring concrete.

The Spokane downtown trolley does not bring shoppers into downtown. The primary goal is to keep the luxury housing residents of Kendall Yards, the future high density South University District housing residents, and thousands of college students from leaving the downtown core. The goal is to discourage travel to Northtown or Valley Malls and other non-downtown vendors. National and local taxpayers will fund this to create benefits to key downtown stakeholders. This will not create economic growth – it just moves spending from one place to another.

Like the $570 million sunk in the north side freeway, the $110 million waste of energy plant that makes our disposal costs twice that of a landfill (“it may turn trash into air pollution but at least it costs twice as much”),  and other programs, this is another investment with a bad return to the many.

Like so many taxpayer funded investments here, the trolley does not show a good return on investment – and will divert money from projects that might actually improve our local economic situation.

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I filed this story under “Crime”.

Spokane, King County and Washington inflation adjusted household median income charts

A reader who also needs to be anonymous, has provided an additional chart comparing Spokane County, King County and the state of Washington household median incomes, adjusted for inflation. The results are similar to those posted last week, but these show Washington and King County falling backwards in income over the period 1992-2009.

The lines to compare in this chart are purple to green to red:

The above charts are for the period 1992-2009, while the chart I provided last week is for the period 1989-2010.

For the period 1992 to 2009, all areas show declines in median income.

Differences between this chart and my Spokane County median income chart may be due to differing reporting periods, different data sources (see “After the break”, below) and CPI adjustments. Between 1989 to 1992, Spokane County after inflation adjusted median income rose by 1.4%. From 2009 to 2010, Spokane County median incomes fell an additional 2.75%, which is not reflected in the above chart ending in 2009.

The main takeaway is that after inflation adjusted median incomes have not done well over two decades. The median income is the value at which half of incomes are less and half are greater. This is not the same as average income.

Data and more commentary for the above chart are after the break.

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Spokane and Kootenai County economic zones to be merged into one

The Spokane County statistical zone used for economic and other data reporting by government will be combined with Kootenai County starting in 2013.

The main impact is that by combining two smaller entities into one larger group, the combined group moves in to the “top 100” lists of economic reporting zones.

And “It could also help the region collect more federal funding.

But that might not be so good …

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Plans to re-open the Ridpath Hotel; new health science building 1/2 funded

This will be exciting if he can pull it off and funding comes together:

A Spokane man is trying to pull together a plan that would restore the Ridpath Hotel to its original luster.

via Spokane Investor Has Ambitious Plan To Reopen Ridpath – News Story – KXLY Spokane.

Washington State University

Image via Wikipedia

Separately, the state has funded 1/2 of a new health science building that would eventually develop in to a medical school in Spokane.

WSU is perhaps the biggest winner in this. WSU also is taking over the University Center in Everett and doing many other good things.

Spokane County income charts

Spokane County per capita income versus that of Washington and the U.S. As indicated by the red line diverging further from the green and blue lines, Spokane County has been gradually falling further and further behind the income growth of the state and the country.

The divergence between Spokane County per capita income and the State has been getting wider over the past 30 years and is now twice as much as 30 years ago.

Spokane area per capita income growth in the 2000-2009 decade has been awful except for a brief spike around 2006. My belief is that Spokane never recovered from the 2001 recession based on this chart, the diverging income chart and that unlike past recessions, when the transfer payments spiked up in 2000/2001, they did not fall back down as they had done during previous recessions.

Changes in employment, by category, 2001 to 2009 in Spokane County

This chart is very wide – recommend you click on the chart to see the full image.

Data comes from washington.reaproject.org

Notable 0bservations – large growth in health care jobs number. Large percentage drops in Manufacturing, Information, Management, and Military categories.  Large percentage increases in Finance & Insurance, Real Estate/Rentals/Leasing, Professional and Technical Services.

A Tale of Two Cities – Spokane versus King County Wages

The following charts are produced using data provided by the State of Washington on average wages by county, and by category. The original data comes from here:  https://fortress.wa.gov/esd/lmea/IndustryDashboard/ and reading the data for each category, by county.

King County has higher wages than the state average.  A comparison to the State of Washington averages (instead of King County) is only slightly more favorable to Spokane. What these charts show is explained below the charts.  These are the top most categories within the State’s database. It is possible to get sub categories, elsewhere on the State’s web site, to compare, say, architects, rather than “Professional and Technical Services” and find that some specific job groups within each category pay better than indicated by the broad average.

Chart 1 – Spokane weekly average wages, by category, are shown in blue and King County in red.

Chart 2- Spokane weekly average wage, by category, as a percent of the average in King County.

Some one is bound to post a comment saying, “But how can this be true if Spokane wages are 80% of the state average? This looks much worse.”

For those of you on drugs, read carefully:

  • The above charts compare Spokane and King County, not the state average.
  • The above charts do not reflect that the fields with the greatest discrepancies do not account for  many jobs in Spokane. Here’s a chart from ESD that shows who works in what category. Health care, retail trade, accommodation and food services (and government, which is missing for King County) account for most of the jobs in Spokane.

Observations

The Education Services category is private education services. Public schools and universities are bundled under Government. However, the Workforceexplorer.com web site said it was missing the data on the Government category for King County so I was not able to compare Spokane and King County government employment.  Government accounts for 20% or $1 out of every $5 earned in Spokane County.

The State also splits out salaries by different categories or sub categories accessible at different locations in their web site. The sub categories produce different results than those shown above.

The above columns are not weighted by the number of people who work in these sectors. For example, the Information sector in Spokane, as a percent of the workforce, is well below the state average. The salary difference is huge but it effects a small number of workers.

The wage differences between Spokane and King County are staggering, particularly as we move to the right of the chart into the “high skilled” job categories. This is further evidence that Spokane County has few good paying jobs available for high skilled workers.

Another way to look at this is to say that high skilled workers choose Spokane for other reasons but at a cost of forgoing 35% to 60% of their earnings potential to live in Spokane. Or, that Spokane has a lower quality skilled work force and these are the market wages for their respective level of skill. No matter how you slice it, this is a tragedy.

To attract a “world class” work force will require substantially greater salaries to be paid in Spokane.  But relative salaries in Spokane have been dropping for over 30 years and no plan has worked to increase the Spokane wage level during that time.

And there is no plan that will work because chronic low wages are a feature! Spokane has long promoted itself as a business destination because of its low wage structure.

Not shown in the categories but pulled out of a different section of the WorkForceExplorer web site, Life Science salaries are 78% of those in King County. The Information sector, which includes “software publishers” but also includes online services and newspapers, pays just 39% of King County wages and just 45% of Washington State average salaries in that sector.

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