Employers are expected to add jobs and the unemployment rate is projected to fall further here in 2015, one Spokane-based economist says, but the rate of job growth might slow, another expert says.
Doug Tweedy, Spokane-based regional labor economist for the Washington state Employment Security Department, says the average annual unemployment rate for Spokane County through the first 10 months of 2014 was 6.2 percent, down from the 7.9 percent annual average unemployment rate last year and an even greater decline from the 8.8 percent rate for 2012.
Going into 2015, Tweedy says, “We expect more jobs to be created. We expect more opportunities for people to find jobs. Replacements are going to be a hot subject in the future, having a pipeline of skilled workers.”
Tweedy says a number of industries are contributing relatively evenly to job growth, which he says is an encouraging trend.
“That makes us more stable,” he says.
That job growth is occurring in health care, finance, transportation/warehousing, advanced manufacturing, and education. There currently aren’t any industries in which job numbers are shrinking substantially or putting a drag on overall job growth, he says.
While job growth is contributing to a lower unemployment rate, another factor is a shrinking workforce. Tweedy says the region has experienced some outmigration, with people moving for job opportunities in other cities, but most of the decline in the number of workers is due to retirements.
“Baby boomers are retiring at a faster rate as they gain confidence in the economy,” he says.
Tweedy says he expects that decline in the number of workers to be temporary and that the labor force will start to grow again next year.
Grant Forsyth, regional labor economist for Spokane-based Avista Corp., says that while the unemployment rate has shrunk and the job market has grown, the growth rate for 2014 is slower than he had expected it to be. Looking at Spokane and Kootenai counties together, Forsyth says the number of jobs has increased by close to 1 percent this year, a slower rate than the 1.5 percent growth rate he had projected and down from the 2 percent growth rate in 2013.
Employment growth has been stronger in Kootenai County than in Spokane County, Forsyth says. He says many of those additional jobs have come in construction and health care, as services in the county ramp up in part to catch up with the growth experienced there.
“In Spokane, a lot of that infrastructure is already in place,” he says.
Next year, he expects to see job growth in the 1 percent to 1.5 percent range in the two counties. However, he says a number of factors could slow growth.
With the national economy expanding and improving, Forsyth says he expects the U.S. Federal Reserve to move interest rates upward at some point next year.
“I have some uncertainty about how the economy will respond,” Forsyth says.
In the health sector, he says, uncertainty surrounding some aspects of the Accountable Care Act remain, which could slow employment growth.
“It’s a tough one to figure out,” he says.
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