Annual Days of Sunshine in Spokane

The weather this spring is awesome, isn’t it?

But how does Spokane’s weather stand up, by the numbers?

Annual Days of Sunshine in Washington – Current Results.

Spokane’s days of sunshine per year (on average) is surprisingly similar to Seattle. Not what many of us might have expected.

For Washington:

Some how, Spokane PR has converted 174 days into 260 days of sunshine, which is not true. (Update July 2018: Cities all across the U.S. claim they have “300+” days of sunshine-but it is completely bogus. Long ago, someone measured the number of days in which the sun shone for at least one minute. Yes, one minute. If there was a brief bit of sunlight on an otherwise cold and snowy day, that got counted as a “day of sunshine”. The metric is bogus and useless – yet visitor bureaus and local chamber of commerce groups routinely promote their city as having “300+” days of sunshine. Spokane manages to only rank 260 days with at least one minute of sunshine, however.)

For Oregon:

For Idaho:

How are those weather terms defined?

  • If the sun shines for 70% of the day time or more, its a “Sunny” day.
  • If the sun shines for between 21% and 69% of the day, its “Partly Sunny or Partly Cloudy” day. What’s the difference? The sun doesn’t shine at night so we call it “Partly cloudy”.
  • If the sun shines for less than 20% of the day, its “Cloudy”.

Spokane unemployment rises to 9.0%

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

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Spokane Employment, Real Estate, Demographics by Neighborhood, Local News and Social Media

Spokane Employment

As of January 2012, Spokane’s unemployment reached 9.8% in January (update: 10.1% in February). There have been a very large number of business closings, particularly in the retail sector, from January through March. February employment data will be available on March 29th.

Non-farm employment fell to 201,200 in January 2012 which is 200 fewer jobs than in January 2011.

In January 2012, the total # of non-farm employed reached an all time low since 2005. Stated another way, January 2012 is the lowest non-farm employment we have seen in this recession.

  • 1 out of every 10 jobs disappeared from the peak to today; at the peak, the unemployment rate was 5% to 6%.

But things are better now in Spokane because the unemployment rate went from 10.9% to 9.8%.  Doublethink!

Data comes from the Washington Employment Security Department web site.

The State has not updated the following chart so I drew in the curve at far right to position the curve to the 201,200 level as of January 2012:

In terms of people holding jobs, Spokane has seen no recovery from the Great Recession and has just reached a new all time employment low for this recession.  

People may have given up looking for work, moved outside the County to find jobs, become self-employed or be in jail. That could explain a declining unemployment percentage while the number of workers continues to fall.

Spokane Average Home Selling Price Falls 6.5% year over year

35% of home sales are distressed properties (such as foreclosures) but unit sales increased by 41%, partially due to a large percentage  increase in a small number. Prices are expected to fall the remainder of 2012.

Educational Attainment by Neighborhood

27% of adults have a 4-year college degree or higher but most of the college educated live in three neighborhoods on South Hill or around Whitworth University. As we move away from those neighborhoods, the college educated rate drops to around 18-21%, and 10% or lower for the bulk of Spokane, north of the Spokane River (but excluding Whitworth University neighborhood).

Spokane’s college educated population is strongly skewed to South Hill and the Whitworth University area. Outside of those two neighborhoods, the population is comparatively poorly educated. I compared the above percentages to areas in King County, the San Francisco Bay area, and Austin, Texas, known for strong economies. In all but one of those zip codes I checked, the percent of adults having a 4-year college degree or higher ranged from 43% to 75%. This was not a large sample of zip codes, was probably not random and it could be wrong but … it hints that the educational attainment of Spokane adults is not where it ought to be for local economic success.

Today there is little demand by Spokane employers for college educated workers. As seen in this chart,  few job vacancies require a 4-year degree or higher.


Median Household Income by Neighborhood

There is a correlation with college education and median household income – compare to the chart above:

Demographic data, organized by Zip Code, are available online from numerous web sites. The City-Data web site and were used for the above charts.

Spokane’s Invisible Empty Building Problem

Spokane is filled with vacant buildings – all of which are apparently invisible as no one talks about this publicly.

There are 18 invisible empty store fronts inside the Valley Mall (first weekend in March); there were 22 (+ or -) invisible empty store fronts inside the Northtown Mall.

In the downtown area, there are entire blocks of invisible, mostly empty buildings.

Drive down Sprague Ave from Sullivan to Mullan/Argonne Roads in Spokane Valley – I counted so many For Sale/For Lease signs that it worked out to an average of a sign every 3 seconds while driving along that 2 1/2 mile stretch of road. Turn right on Mullan Rd and see the same # down the next mile to I-90.

All of these empty buildings are invisible. They do not exist. There is no public discussion. There is no media coverage. In fact, we do not need to envision a better Spokane because Spokane is already perfect!

Oddly, in 2006, the news reported that a 4% retail vacancy rate is a “healthy market” but in 2012 a 12% vacancy rate on South Hill is a “booming” retail market. So what would a 24% retail vacancy rate in  Spokane Valley be? How about “One of the brightest spots in the mix is Spokane’s bubbling retail sector“?

Orwellian Doublethink is alive and well in Spokane.

Retail sales up in State – except in Spokane

Confirmation of what this web site has documented through actual data – Spokane’s economy continues to slide while the rest of the state is growing. (This update added April 28, 2012).

Spokane News Media and Their Social Media Presence


The following two charts are obsolete and contained two errors and have been replaced by the above charts:

** KHQ TV and the Spokesman-Review are both owned by the Cowles family business and perhaps should be treated as a single number of  about 43,500 on Facebook.

Each organization also has staff members with Twitter accounts. The above lists only the number of followers for their “main” Twitter user ID.

Spokane Police Lottery

The odds of winning the Washington Lottery are about 1 in 7 million. Much better odds are to become a Spokane Police officer, act dimwitted on or off the job, get up to five years paid administrative leave (vacation?), then get fired and sue the city and walk off with a million $ payout. The odds of winning the SPD lottery are about 1 in 100, far better than buying a Washington Lottery ticket.

Updates to this web site are made on an infrequent basis. May be there will be more updates, or may be there will not be more updates.

Actually there is going to be another update real soon that was written last year, never published but recently brought up to date. Stay tuned.

“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

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Spokane’s North Corridor Half Billion $ Boondoggle

Corridor funding may hit dead end – – 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.

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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%
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

Southwest to abandon Seattle-Spokane route and SIA is not honest about it


Image by shankool007 via Flickr

UpdateSince this was written, Alaska/Horizon announced it will add 2 additional turbo prop flights to the Spokane-Seattle route.  Alaska did not publicly announce their price hike, but in their reservation system, the price went up..

Southwest to abandon Seattle-Spokane route – – July 27, 2011.

  1. Claim: Airport spokesperson says there are 20 daily flights on Alaska/Horizon to Seattle.
    Reality: There will be 3 jet flights and 13 turbo prop (propeller planes – just like a rural town) direct to Seattle. That’s 16, not 20. Four additional flights go to Portland where you can change planes, then go to Seattle. Total travel time including TSA groping and so on is longer than just driving. This is easy to check at
  2. Claim: The airport spokesperson says Alaska is not raising fares.
    Reality:  On the Alaska web site, their lowest cost fare option vanishes in January the day before Southwest flights end. This is easy to check.
  3. Claim: The article says an expansion of flights “to Denver in recent years” adds more options.
    Reality: Except there appears to have been a 1/3d drop in flights to Denver this past year. Again, easy to check.
  4. Claim: The airport spokesperson suggests Spokane travelers can fly to “Denver and Phoenix” and then transfer to Seattle.
    Reality: That does not pass the giggle test – that takes far, far longer than just driving to Seattle! We are not idiots.

PR spin or outright lies? You decide.

Many are looking at the air travel situation and realizing we may need to move out of Spokane. It takes a day to get places that I used to get to in 2 to 2 1/2 hour flights, and with lack of options, I may have to stay over an extra night in a hotel.

Filed under “Crime” because the airport is being dishonest. Separately, the SR reporter /editor should have verified or clarified those statements for the reader.

REMINDER: The airport is a proxy for the local economy. The fall off in flights, non-stop destinations and passengers is primarily a reflection of the local and national economy . The data suggest that Spokane’s economy is doing worse than elsewhere. The data presented do not mean that airport management is (presently) doing a bad job, although their PR spin is amusing.

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, 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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Washington State cell phone taxes

A Tax Break for Cellphone Users? –

Tip: If you ditch a contract phone and use a pay as you go plan, you pay only sales tax instead.

Washington is the 2nd to the highest tax rate, at the bottom of the chart.

Spokane Median Income Trend versus State of Washington Median Income Trend

This chart shows Spokane median household incomes versus the state of Washington’s household median income, with both adjusted for inflation in to 2010 $s.

  • Compare the red line with the green line. Green is the State of Washington and red is Spokane.
  • Compare the yellow/orange line with the blue line, where yellow/orange is the state of Washington and the blue line is Spokane.

If the data series are correct, and the inflation adjustments are correct, household median income in Washington has also fallen but remains just above the 1989 figure.

Data sources – see previous post.

I have government data for average wages per job (which is not the same as household median income). I have not yet had time to make the inflation adjustments to that data, and draw a chart, but it appears that average wages per job have gone up, which is good news.

Update: Funny quote from Taleb, paraphrasing McCluhan… “The median is not the message“. We hope!

Spokane’s Borders Bookstore not on the closure list

Borders Bookstore - SeaTac Airport

Image by brewbooks via Flickr

Border’s announced it is filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection today and will close about one third of their stores.

However, the one Border’s book store in Spokane is not on the closure list, fortunately!

The list is available here (large PDF)- see page 146 for the list of store closures.

Update: July 2011 – all Borders stores, including Waldenbooks and Borders are closing.

History of Spokane Economic Plans – Part 4 – Innovation Economy

By 2000, right at the peak of the “dot com” revolution, and just prior to its crash, Dr. David Kazlow produced an economic study for the City of Spokane’s Mayors Office that called for an expanded role for high tech including software development, IT, bio-tech, electronics manufacturing and medical instrumentation. (Source:

This was one of the first reports pointing towards an innovation based economy, although it did not phrase it that way. But as of 2000, this report identified some issues with Spokane’s economy that were causing problems:

  • Lack of recognition nationally/internationally as a business location
  • Lack of industrial location and business development incentives, including tax increment financing and a Port Authority
  • High business taxes (a state level issue)
  • Lack of qualified high tech workers
  • Low percentage of college graduates in the workforce compared to western portion of State (slightly above the U.S. average, but two percentage points below that of the State, based on 1990 Census)
  • Limited availability of quality business/high tech parks
  • Local regulatory and permitting impediments to development
  • Significant areas of the downtown are deteriorating
  • Lack of a strong graduate ­level research capability in the local institutions of higher education

I highlighted the first bullet point – Spokane is suitable for regional businesses but is generally not seen as a location for

An academic hall at Gonzaga University in Spok...

Image via Wikipedia

national and certainly not world-class businesses. (There are exceptions such as Hollister-Stiers, a contract pharma manufacturer, and Itron, a utility industry electrical power meter company.)

I highlighted the last bullet point because that situation has gotten worse since then. As of 2008, EWU graduated one Masters in computer science and three Masters in Biology. WSU-Spokane has a program in exercise science but I do not know how many graduates it produced. There are no other science, technical or engineering graduate degrees offered in the immediate area and no research doctorates. Both Gonzaga and WSU-Spokane previously offered graduate degrees in engineering and/or computer science, depending on how far back we go – but these are no longer offered.

I will come back to this point again because there are several reports that note the need for strong graduate programs in science, technology and engineering in order for Spokane to create a sustainable environment for science and high technology innovation businesses. Without such programs, we will probably not have much of an innovation ecosystem.

Dr. Kazlow also wrote that Spokane should:

Be an internationally competitive region that aggressively advocates business development and investment that raises our employee compensation levels and lowers the region’s poverty rates.

That darned chronic low wage issue rose again in that 2000 report.

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History of Spokane Economic Plans – Part 3 – What They Said Back in 1999

Review Tower

Image by Mike Tigas via Flickr

Interestingly, Spokane had suffered badly in 1999 – adding few jobs to the local economy while the national economy was roaring forwards. The Director of Marketing for the Spokesman-Review, Shaun O.L. Higgins, in his annual state of the local economy presentation, noted that Spokane’s high tech sector had been in decline since the mid 1990s.  (Source:

He also noted an on-going problem with Spokane’s marketing efforts being based on  putting lipstick on a pig, rather than confronting and fixing the challenges:

It is safe to assume that we’d have better-paying jobs and quality high-tech jobs if the national job market thought we merited them.  But when our industrial recruiters present our case, we are often found wanting. Rather than blame the recruiters, we need to look seriously at improving the case they have to present.

And he continued on to note:

We should establish a publicly funded, joint city-county Office of Economic Statistics to develop an impartial, reliable, ongoing metrics for planning rather than public-relations purposes.

I could not agree more with his assessment. He is absolutely spot on with the area’s tendency to focus on PR and fluff rather than reality.

He also noted that in 1998, Forbes ranked Spokane 161 out of 162 counties in which to start a tech business, and the Milken Institute ranked Spokane 227 out of 315 MSAs in high tech output growth and said that the lack of high tech growth is “an obstacle to overall economic well-being”.