The number of jobs in the Inland Northwest is expected to increase in 2012, though not nearly as quickly as analysts typically would expect them to grow in what appears to be a recovering employment market.
Grant Forsyth, an economics professor at Eastern Washington University, is projecting employment growth of 0.5 percent, though the economic modeling he uses to make forecasts suggests the employment change could be anywhere from a 0.6 percent drop to a 1.6 percent increase. Before the recession, he says, employment grew an average of 2 percent annually.
Forsyth says Boeing Co.'s decision to expand its 737 airplane in Washington state makes him "vaguely more optimistic" about job prospects next year. While that work will occur in Renton, Wash., it likely will have a spillover effect for Inland Northwest aerospace manufacturing operations.
A number of potential impediments to economic recovery, however, temper that optimism, he says.
"I'm very cautious because we have some other headwinds," he says.
Such issues range from the European debt crisis to the possibility of a second downgrade of the U.S. credit rating.
Doug Tweedy, Spokane-based regional economist for the Washington state Employment Security Department, says, "It's going to be a slow recovery, but the good news is that it's going to be diversified."
Preliminary numbers for Spokane County last October, the most recent month for which data are available, show there were 1,500 fewer nonfarm wage and salary workers in the Spokane area than there had been one year earlier206,100 compared with 207,600according to preliminary statistics from the Employment Security Department.
While total employment fell, the unemployment rate rose in October to 8.3 percent from 8.1 percent a year earlier, according to preliminary state figures.
In general, Tweedy says, fewer people are looking for work in the Spokane area. When the economic downturn first started, he says, about 7,000 people moved here to look for work. He estimates about 1,500 of those job seekers later moved out of the Spokane area. That outmigration, he says, especially became apparent in the second half of this year.
Even though the total number of jobs is down from a year ago, Tweedy says there are seven industry subsectors in which the job growth is outpacing the overall industry. For example, advanced manufacturing, which includes metal fabrication and aerospace manufacturing, among others, gained 400 jobs in the Spokane area in the past year. Another example is health care clinics and laboratories, which have increased jobs at a faster pace than health care on the whole.
"That's a big deal because growth isn't based on one or two subsectors," Tweedy says.
In 2012, one lingering question will be whether job reductions at all levels of government will offset expected gains in the private sector. Forsyth says that's precisely what has happened this year; government job losses have wiped out any gains that occurred in the private sector.
Almost two-thirds of all jobs fall under a broad category called private services, which includes retail, law firms, private education, and health services, among many others. Job growth in this category, Forsyth says, largely has been flat, while the smaller categories have fluctuated.
"For the region to enjoy robust growth, we need to see the service-producing sector start to grow," he says.
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