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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Economists say local job growth may slow

Overall, economy in 2015 will resemble this year’s

The Inland Northwest economy in 2015 will roll on at a modest pace, two economists said Tuesday during the annual Greater Spokane Incorporated forecast breakfast.

Just don’t expect it to pick up speed, said Avista Chief Economist Grant Forsyth and former US Bank economist John Mitchell.

The pair agreed that the main drag on the regional economy is modest growth in jobs and sluggish wage increases. Forsyth noted that since 2009, Spokane County has seen a 0.4 percent growth in real wages. That’s higher than the national average but well below the gains seen in the Puget Sound region.

“The bad news (about wages) is that the low growth affects taxable sales because consumers are cautious about what they buy,” Forsyth said.

Forsyth added that employment growth in 2013 for the combined Spokane and Kootenai counties was about 2 percent. This year, the combined area will see job growth of 1 percent, with most of that due to stronger job gains in Kootenai County.

He sees job growth next year also lingering in the range of 1 percent to 1.5 percent for the combined area.

Forsyth said Spokane’s mild job growth, compared with Kootenai County, is likely due to more people retiring who aren’t being replaced, and discouraged workers who stopped looking for work.

Mitchell, who’s made numerous annual visits to the GSI forecast event, invoked a forecaster’s sense of déjà vu looking ahead. The 2015 forecast for modest growth reminded him of the movie “Groundhog Day” because his 2014 prediction was not much different than the one presented Tuesday.

“The direction is up,” Mitchell said.

During the recession, most Americans were focused on keeping or finding a job. That’s been replaced, he said, by concern over stagnant wage growth.

Looking nationally, Mitchell said people 40 and older have seen a generally robust increase in net worth while those under 40 “have not regained the losses they saw due to the recession.”

Mitchell found one statistic that showed Washington outperforming Idaho – year-over-year economic growth. Based on data compiled by Arizona State University, 49 states had positive growth in 2014; of those, Washington was the 10th strongest, but Idaho sat well back at No. 40 in net economic growth, Mitchell said.