Western job scene still bleak
Keith; The News Tribune
Washington and other West Coast states are being battered by the
ailing economy, continuing to lead the country in high unemployment
rates last month.
Washington ranked third in December, a position it has held off and
on since last summer.
Alaska holds the dubious top spot, with Oregon second. The Dakotas
and Nebraska posted the lowest jobless rates in December.
The new data, released Tuesday by the Labor Department, show the employment
outlook in much of the country remains bleak. But no states reported
wild swings in their unemployment rates, suggesting some stabilization
- at least for now.
"Flat is the right adjective to describe the state's economy,"
Roberta Pauer, the Seattle economist for Washington State Employment
Security, said recently.
"A flattened-out economy is an improvement over an economy in
clear recession," she added.
Economists have predicted that the unemployment rate will slowly decline
in 2003, but it will be a very slow drop. Pauer estimated it would
take until 2005 for Washington to recoup the 86,500 jobs lost in the
last 22 months.
Pierce County's jobless rate was 6.7 percent in December, down slightly
from November's 6.8 percent. King County stands at 6.0 percent; Thurston
County is at 5.3 percent.
The national economy's uneven recovery poses challenges for President
Bush, who is pushing for another round of tax cuts to stimulate growth
and create jobs. The nation's unemployment rate has hovered around
6 percent since April 2002.
The West Coast has been particularly hard-hit, and Bush, who has viewed
political opportunities in that Democrat-backing region, may be forced
to shift focus. Many economists predict the nation's jobless rate
will continue to rise in coming months, going as high as 6.5 percent
this summer and ending the year at current levels.
"The economy is flat - there is no new job growth," said
Mark Zandi, chief economist at Economy.com.
On the West Coast, many different ills are affecting employment. Alaska
officials say a drop in tourism and low energy prices earlier this
year are major factors for that state's job troubles.
The technology bust, the 2001 energy crisis and the weak travel and
aviation industries have taken a major toll on the West Coast.
The upper Midwest has consistently posted the lowest unemployment
rates in the country. North and South Dakota had jobless rates of
3.0 percent last month, and Nebraska had 3.4 percent.
Those states have benefited from large agriculture subsidies that
helped keep their economies afloat, Zandi said. Also, many workers
laid off by companies in those states return to farming and are not
counted as unemployed.
Another factor is the small populations in those states, Zandi said.
North Dakota was the only state, along with the District of Columbia,
that lost residents from July 1, 2001, to July 1, 2002.
Staff writer Barbara Clements and The Associated Press contributed
to this report.
Jack Keith: 253-552-7028