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 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.

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.

Spokane area unemployment worsens in June 2011

The May report was revised downwards to 8.8% from 9.0%. June, however, came in at 9.1%.  The high unemployment level has remained constant in Spokane for 3 years running.


The total number of non-farm jobs increased slightly. June and July are typically peak employment months in Spokane. Its down hill from here, until a spurt of seasonable temporary jobs around Christmas. The unemployment rate is based on an estimate of those working and an estimate of those looking for work. As can be seen in the chart, the unemployment rate can and does go down, even as the total number of those working also goes down. Which seems paradoxical but that is due to how the estimates are produced.

Initial unemployment claims rose, although “continuing” claims went down. The latter could have gone down because workers found jobs or because they reached the end of their unemployment benefits and gave up looking for work.


Good thing we will be cutting bus service while building a downtown trolley and pouring more concrete out at the under used Spokane (Not) International Airport!

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

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.


An explanation for the surprising 9.0% unemployment rate estimate

The Labor Department released a new unemployment estimate today, dropping from 9.8% to 9.0% in just two months.  Sounds like great news!

The Wall Street Journals says the data involved in the calculation was off last year, has been newly revised in January using 2010 Census data, and has been some what tortured resulting in an estimate that some say is not useful without looking at all the other related data. Bummer. Unemployment might be better or not as good as it looks. Hard to say, they suggest, without considering all the data.

See Messy New Estimates Complicate Explanation for Unemployment Rate Drop – Real Time Economics – WSJ.

Another explanation is that due to how the surveys are conducted, they tend to be wrong when the economy is changing rapidly. It is possible that many jobs have indeed just been created but are not yet reflected in each of the surveys.

Chart of the labor force participation rate shows that many people are leaving the work force. In the last 12 months, the participation rate is falling at a rapid rate.  If – or when – they choose to again look for work, the unemployment rate might unexpectedly rise.

Washington State’s monthly report – for January – will not be released until March 1st and March 8th. The February report will be released on March 15th.

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