Spokane Journal of Business

New jobs now outpace quit rates in Spokane County

As leadership landscape changes, overall workforce levels are recovering

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While turnover remains a challenge for businesses, workforce participation data shows employees are entering the labor market in greater numbers than those who quit, an indication that Spokane has recovered from the great resignation wave reported throughout the U.S. last year, labor market experts here say.

High quit rates have alarmed employers who are experiencing labor shortages, but federal, state, and county data shows that new job postings have outpaced quit rates throughout all industries in the U.S.

Locally, employers have grown or recovered workforce levels compared to pre-pandemic employment levels, but a labor shortage is ongoing due to the volume of new job openings available across all employment sectors, says Mark Mattke, CEO of nonprofit Spokane Area Workforce Development Council.

Patrick Jones, executive director of the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Analysis at Eastern Washington University, says the labor participation rate provides a clue about the attitudes toward work in Spokane County.

Jones says the December workforce data for 2021 shows the labor participation in Spokane County was 265,000—higher than at any point in 2019. 

Doug Tweedy, Spokane-based regional economist for the Washington state Employment Security Department, says the average of monthly quits in Washington state in 2019, before the pandemic, was 60,000. The total number of quits in December 2021 was 84,000, a sign of increased turnover.

However, the pre-pandemic monthly average of total of job openings in 2019 in Washington state was 138,000. In December 2021, there were 221,000 total job openings for the month. When compared with the monthly average from a year earlier, the data indicates an even greater increase in job opportunities available.

Jones contends there is no longer a sign of the great resignation happening Spokane County if the labor force is growing.

Mattke, of Spokane Workforce Council, says there were 250,000 people working in Spokane County at year-end 2019. In December 2021, that stood at 255,000 workers.

“Our total employment is up 5,000 people working over where we were pre-pandemic, so we’ve recovered the jobs and grown,” he says.

Tweedy says data trends support the notion that when workers have more opportunities, quit rates will rise because workers can move around to jobs that better suit their needs.

“People are moving around more because of what they perceive as better opportunities,” Tweedy says.

He says many workers are migrating from jobs in leisure, retail, and hospitality positions, and joining transportation and warehouse jobs, such as Amazon, FedEx, and the U.S. Postal Service.

Jones says the quit rate hasn’t impacted all industries in the same way.

Of the top six industries in Spokane County with the highest employment levels, the health care and social assistance sectors have recovered employment to pre-pandemic levels as of Q2 2021 compared with Q2 2019, along with retail jobs, Jones says.

Professional and technical services, and finance and insurance sectors have shown growth from pre-pandemic employment levels. However, manufacturing jobs remain about 1,000 workers below the pre-pandemic employment levels for the industry. The hospitality industry experienced a decline of 2,000 workers, Jones adds.

He adds that the data indicates there is a lot of turnover in the labor market.

Factors driving turnover rates include retirements, lack of child care options, employee burnout, and employees reevaluating careers for a better work/life balance.

Employment professionals here agree the labor market currently favors workers over employers.

Mattke says he’s also noticed most quits are taking place in jobs that pay the minimum wage.

“It’s been harder to keep people in a minimum wage job. Turnover rates are very high if you’re making $15 to $18 an hour,” Mattke says.

Labor leaders here say employers can stem turnover by offering better wages and benefits.

Workers also are looking for career development opportunities, Mattke says. If career pathways can be mapped out for an employee, there is a strong incentive for the employee to remain with that employer instead of looking for another job with a $1 an hour higher wage, for example.

“It’s going to get better. As businesses become more savvy about what it takes to be competitive, they’re going to be more attractive to workers and bring people in who are still on the sidelines,” Mattke says. “It’s going to improve in 2022, but the pace of that will depend on the businesses adapting to the new reality of the labor market.”

Erica Bullock
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Reporter Erica Bullock has worked at the Journal since 2019 and covers real estate and construction. She is a craft beer enthusiast, who loves to garden and go camping with friends.

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