Stats show growth in commuting in county

Unemployment jumped a bit, but economist says no cause for worry

One thing that is clear from recent economic statistics about Island County is that more and more people are commuting to other counties, according to a regional economist with the state Employment Security Department.

Anneliese Vance-Sherman, who studies a six-county area that includes Island County, explained that the number of jobs in the county has trended downward. From June 2018 to June 2019, 170 jobs were lost; the most jobs were lost in the health services industry.

But at the same time, more people who live in Island County are working, jumping by 1.4 percent in the last year, she said.

“There’s an increase in the size of the labor force at the same time we’re seeing a decrease in the number of jobs,” she said. “The jobs are elsewhere.”

The county’s civilian unemployment rate, not seasonally adjusted, jumped from 4.9 percent in May to 5.7 percent in June.

“We’re a bit higher than we’ve been in a while in Island County,” Vance-Sherman said.

The state’s unemployment rate is 4.4 percent. King County has the lowest rate at 2.9 percent.

Yet Vance-Sherman cautions against reading too much into Island County’s increase. Nearby Whatcom and Skagit counties have experienced similar recent “anomalies” in unemployment rates, she pointed out. Whatcom’s rate is 5.4 percent and Skagit is at 5.8 percent.

The small jump could be a positive sign that more people are feeling optimistic enough about the economy to look for jobs, she said, or it could be a more negative indicator. Economists will know more depending on longer-term trends.

In addition, she pointed out that the state’s employment numbers don’t take into account most military jobs, which is “a very large blind spot” in the numbers for counties with military bases. Naval Air Station Whidbey Island is the largest employer in the county.

Vance-Sherman said Island County fits into the statewide narrative that economic growth is centered in larger cities.

The median hourly wage in Island County in 2017 was $20.16, compared to the $24.89 state median wage. The county’s per capita personal income was $49,741 in 2016, while the state per capita income was $54,579, according to the Employment Security Department.

Vance-Sherman said the county’s wages tend to be lower because the major industries tend to have lower-paying jobs, such as retail, the service industry and government.

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