Four years after the recession: The ups and downs of Washington’s economy

Washington began shedding jobs in the fall of 2008 as the Great Recession started taking its toll on the state. That was more than four years ago, and many workers and families are still experiencing the effects of the recession. However, Washington’s economy appears to be on the rebound, and gradually adding jobs over the last two and a half years.

It has been a slow, modest climb, with the pace picking up in recent months. Between September 2010 and September 2011, total nonfarm employment grew by 1.7%, with gains of nearly 47,000 jobs. In the following year, growth was up to 2.1%, with more than 58,000 jobs added during the last 12 months.

Washington hit its most recent employment low in February of 2010 – marking a loss of 190,000 jobs between September 2008 and February 2010. Since then, growth has been weak but evident, with gains of nearly 121,000 jobs through September 2012. A quarter of those gains were in manufacturing. Other growing industries include professional and business services, health, accommodation and food, and retail.

Industries that continue to experience losses include construction and the public sector. Over the last four years, more than 54,000 construction jobs were lost – the most of any sector by a wide margin. However, more recent months have shown positive increases, with 4,700 new construction jobs added between September 2011 and September 2012.

In Washington, public sector jobs have been on the decline, despite signs of recovery in the private sector. State government in particular, including health, law enforcement, and public welfare workers, shed 7,000 jobs during the last four years, shrinking 4.5%. Cuts to state government continued through 2011.

While job creation is finally picking up, attention must be focused on sectors that continue to struggle. When a handful of industries are struggling, the entire state economy is weakened. Until the state reinvests in public services and projects, growth will be stalled across sectors. This is evident in Washington’s persistently high unemployment rate, which has been above 8% for three and a half years.

For more about the status of Washington’s economy, see: On the ropes or on the rebound? How Washington’s legislature can boost our post-recession economy.

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