Business Barometer is a quarterly GSI publication that highlights significant economic indicators for the greater-Spokane region, as told by four local economists. The blog series contains eight posts; you’re reading post #2.
The first quarter employment numbers were “very encouraging,” according to Doug Tweedy, regional economist, Washington State Labor Market & Economic Analysis.
Spokane County added 5,414 jobs in first quarter 2015 compared to the same period in 2014. This job growth rate of 2.4% exceeds the state and nation, which had first quarter rates of 2.3% and 2.0%, respectively.
“We’re just beginning to see unemployment dropping because of job growth and not from discouraged workers moving away or leaving the job market — which means it is a more healthy labor market,” says Avista Chief Economist Grant Forsyth.
“We are close to the job peak of 2008 in Spokane County,” says Tweedy. “We gained 4,000 jobs in 2014 and are on track to gain 6,000 jobs in 2015. In addition, our economy is more diversified now, which helps job seekers because there are a variety of firms hiring and positions available for workers with different skill sets.”
Steve Scranton, chief investment officer for Washington Trust Bank states, “Spokane is now matching up to the employment growth rate for Washington state and the US. We should be encouraged because much of the country is adding low-wage jobs and, overall, we have been creating more higher paying, skilled jobs locally.”
Spokane’s unemployment rate fell from 8.2% in first quarter 2014 to 7.9% in 2015, but still lags the state’s 6.5% and the nation’s 5.8%.
“Part of the reason we have a higher unemployment rate in Spokane is because we are a regional hub that attracts people looking for work from surrounding areas,” says Tweedy. “However, as the labor market begins to tighten up, this becomes a benefit because we have a larger pool of available workers.”
Tweedy also notes the number of initial claims for unemployment, a leading indicator, continues to decrease and is now at 2007/2008 levels. This indicates that the unemployment level will go down in the future.