Unemployment numbers point to healthy economy

A consistent decrease in the unemployment rate suggests that Island County has emerged from the Great Recession with a steadily growing economy, according to an economist with the state Employment Security Department.

“It took a while because this particular recession was so long and so deep,” said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, regional labor economist.

In a report released this week, the Employment Security Department states that the preliminary unemployment rate for December, not seasonally adjusted, was 5.5 percent.

The preliminary average for 2017 was 5.1 percent.

In comparison, Skagit’s rate for December was 5.8 percent, Whatcom’s rate was 5 percent and Snohomish’s rate was 4 percent. King County’s rate was lowest in the state at 3.6 percent.

Island County’s unemployment rate for December was up from 4.7 percent in November, but Vance-Sherman said that’s to be expected for the time of year. She said the rate will probably be even higher for January.

Christine Cribb, executive director of the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce, said she and Mayor Bob Severns visit chamber businesses monthly and continually hear from business owners that it’s difficult to get a quality pool of candidates because of the low unemployment rates throughout the island.

In response, the chamber partnered with WorkSource to start Career Cafe, which is sponsored by Whidbey Coffee.

The goal of the program is to help meet staffing needs in the business community by connecting job seekers with island-wide businesses. The program kicked off in January with more than 100 job openings, according to the chamber.

Broadly speaking, Vance-Sherman said, the recession ran from 2008 to 2010. She said there was a strong rural-urban divide in the recovery, with rural regions taking longer to emerge from the recession.

“The smaller the county, the longer it lagged behind, relative to the Seattle area,” she said.

The unemployment rate peaked in Island County at a yearly average of 9.3 percent in 2010 and slowly but steadily decreased in the ensuing years.

In terms of jobs, the county just returned to pre-recession numbers, Vance-Sherman said.

According to Vance-Sherman, the recovery is very broad-based and has “some substance to it.” The highest level of job growth occurred in the “professional business services” and “leisure / hospitality” sectors.

In 2017, the number of jobs increased by 560, which is a 3.4 percent hike.

“That’s good. That’s very good,” she said, noting that the state average hovers around 3 percent.

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