Strong job growth not enough for many Washington families to dig out of last recession

EOI’s latest analysis of Washington’s economy reveals that strong job growth over the past three years wasn’t enough for many workers to dig out of the economic hole created by Washington’s last recession. Having failed to regain income levels and workplace benefits they once enjoyed in 2000, most middle-income families are ill-prepared to face another downturn.

The state is definitely feeling the effects of the national economic slowdown, but Washington is in better shape than most parts of the country. Halfway through 2008, both information and aerospace jobs were still ticking up here. Job growth has leveled off in some parts of the state, but continues to be strong in King County.

While total state jobs rose by 8.1% from 2000 through 2007, the working age population rose even faster, at 12% over the same period – meaning the state never regained the employment levels of the late 1990s. Typical family incomes have been rising faster than inflation since 2002. But in real dollar terms, median household income – at $58,080 in 2007 – was also below the $60,000 reached at the previous peak. And now, job growth is slowing again. Unemployment hit 5.7% in July 2008, up from at 4.6% a year prior.

That’s a marked contrast to 2001, when the collapse of the dot-com bubble and a sharp decline in manufacturing – especially in aerospace – hit the economy hard. While other parts of the state bounced back fairly quickly from that recession, King County didn’t regain its 2000 job level until 2007. Of course, a prolonged strike at Boeing would have both region-wide and state-wide impacts.

More on the state of Washington’s economy, including county- and metro-level “economic snapshots” is available in EOI’s latest report, The State of Working Washington 2008.

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