The unemployment rate in Spokane County held steady at 8.4 percent in September, but only because job-seekers who arrived here earlier this year in hopes of finding work are leaving.
County employers shed more than 2,600 positions between August and September, according to figures released Tuesday by the Washington Employment Security Department. Since September 2008, the recession has eliminated more than 8,300 jobs in the county.
Regional Labor Economist Doug Tweedy said it will probably take three years to recoup all the jobs lost since November 2008, when employment peaked at 229,380 jobs. The total in September was 217,320, not adjusted for seasonal work such as that done by teachers and farm workers.
The unadjusted unemployment rate for the state also was unchanged from August, at 8.8 percent, but the adjusted rate climbed to 9.3 percent from 9 percent.
Tweedy said Spokane employment has held up slightly better than that in King and Snohomish counties, the state’s two most populous, because the economy is more diversified, and feeds off the relatively healthy agricultural sector. Unemployment in King County was 8.8 in September; in Snohomish it was 10.1.
Spokane’s role as a regional trade hub has also strengthened, he said.
Tweedy said the retail and wholesale trades sector, down 400, accounted for the biggest share of Spokane job losses — despite a report last week that retail sales numbers for the county and City of Spokane are holding up much better than those in Washington’s other urban counties.
Health care employment was off by 300, but Tweedy blamed that in part on the lack of workers to fill skilled positions. Even with the September losses, the sector has added 1,200 positions in the last year based on a rolling average for the first nine months of 2009, he said.
Using those same numbers, which Tweedy said more accurately reflect employment trends, the retail/wholesale sector is off 2,800 jobs, manufacturing 2,500, construction 1,800 and business services 1,500.
Transportation and utilities gained 600, and education 300.
Tweedy said he expects job numbers to level out by the end of 2009, followed by months of job losses and gains in a “sawtooth recovery” that will gradually rebuild the job base.
Despite declining total employment, new job postings continue to come into the Spokane WorkSource office, he said. “People don’t think there are jobs out there, but there are.”