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Spokane region sees strong growth in jobs, labor force

Jan. 24, 2017 Updated Tue., Jan. 24, 2017 at 9:18 p.m.

The labor force grew by 8,870 last year in the Spokane area as more workers were drawn by strong job growth in a mix of industries.

The Spokane metro area, which includes Stevens and Pend Oreille counties, experienced job growth of 2.8 percent over the past 12 months, the Washington Employment Security Department said. In 2015, the job growth rate was 4.4 percent.

“There’s a lot of movement going on in the labor force,” said Doug Tweedy, regional economist for the state agency. “We’re seeing baby boomers retire, millennials entering, and it seems to be a transition time.”

New workers are moving into the urban area at a good clip, Tweedy said. “Where we’re getting those people are the rural areas.”

The strongest job growth is happening in health services (1,400 jobs were added last year); education (up 1,100 jobs); and the professional, scientific and technical sector, which includes legal, accounting, and research and development jobs (up 1,500 jobs).

“We’re still creating jobs, but we’re having people enter the labor force – people migrating into Spokane – because the kinds of jobs that Spokane’s economy is creating are good jobs right now … that pay above the average wage,” Tweedy said.

Health services remains the largest employment sector in Spokane County.

One sector of note is wholesale trade, reflecting business purchasing. That category grew by about 400 jobs last year in Spokane, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties.

“When that number goes up, that usually means that businesses are doing well. They’re buying more notebooks or machinery,” Tweedy said.

Also interesting, he said, is the increase of about 300 jobs in the information sector, mainly from new businesses providing internet services and website development and hosting.

The county’s unemployment rate rose to 6.3 percent in December, up from 5.6 percent in November but down from 6.6 percent one year ago, according to figures released Tuesday.

That’s a common spike at the end of the year when seasonal jobs in retail and construction wind down, Tweedy said.

Spokane County had 15,267 people listed as unemployed in December, compared with 13,431 in November, the state reported.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance benefits hit 3,586 in December in Spokane County. That’s up 6.3 percent over the previous month, but throughout 2016 initial claims were at some of the lowest levels in memory, Tweedy said.

“We haven’t seen initial claims this low since 2000,” he said. “That’s a good indicator for the future – that less people are being laid off, more people being hired.”

Statewide the unemployment rate was 5.2 percent in December. That figure, however, is seasonally adjusted, while the unemployment rate at the county level is not seasonally adjusted because of the small sample size.

In other parts of Eastern Washington, December’s unemployment rate was 4.8 percent (Whitman County), 5.8 percent (Lincoln County), 8.9 percent (Stevens and Pend Oreille counties), 9.1 percent (Adams County), and 11.5 percent (Ferry County).

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