Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Weak job growth triggers frustration for Washington’s unemployed

by Kyle Kim September 22nd, 2011

When Tommy Lamoth lost her job in 2009, she didn’t envision a job hunt that would include eight months of collecting unemployment benefits, ping-ponging between temp jobs across Seattle, and still being unable to find work in her field after a year.

The 32-year-old Capitol Hill resident was one of millions of unemployed workers throughout the nation during a year when unemployment rates in the U.S. reached a height not seen in more than 25 years.

The latest unemployment figures for Washington show the state had a 9.3 percent rate for August 2011 – a marginal change from the 9.4 unemployment rate the year before. The Seattle metro region’s 8.9 percent unemployment rate last month was little better than the 9.1 percent rate last year.

Public Data Ferret Economy archive

The state’s job growth of 46,600 seasonally-adjusted new jobs from August 2010 to 2011 comes in stark contrast against the 321,600 currently unemployed in Washington. Lamoth’s chronic unemployment has been a sobering reminder of the difficult realities many face.

“It makes me feel like a total loser,” Lamoth said. “It definitely takes a toll on your self-esteem when you’ve gone so long without working.” Despite having earned a bachelor’s degree and later enrolling at Columbia University ’s film and creative writing program, Lamoth has only been able to find work in temporary clerical positions.

Having previous experience as a midwife’s assistant, she has also kept her eyes open for opportunities in the field but has been able to find openings. Lamoth isn’t alone in her inability to find work in the state.

Unemployment rates ballooned in all 39 Washington counties since 2007 with jobs in construction and finance activities being the hardest hit, according to the 2010 Washington State Labor Market and Economic Report

Data from the Washington State Employment Security Department show half of the state had unemployment rates at least double since 2007, including the state’s three largest labor markets – King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties – which make up over half of the state’s job force with roughly 1.9 million workers.


Washington’s unemployment rate has consistently ranked in the middle nationally. Other states have fared worse during the Great Recession, such as California, Michigan and Nevada – with unemployment rates that reached over 12 percent in 2010. However, certain counties in Washington experience worse.

The northeastern and southwestern areas of Washington have consistently experienced the highest unemployment rates in the state since 2000: Ferry County currently tops the state’s highest annual unemployment rate at 14.7, percent with Pend Oreille, Clark and Wahkiakum Counties all tying for second at 13.7 percent. Whitman County held the lowest unemployment rate for 2010 at 6.1 percent.

The counties have been hit particularly hard due to the lack of economic investment and large labor shares in industries that were affected most – like manufacturing, mining and timber industries, according to state Employment Security Department economists.

Washington state unemployment rates by county, 2007 to 2010.
But where jobs in certain industries have been significantly shed, others are expected to grow.

Jobs in education, health services and business are projected to increase significantly by 2018 for Washington, according to state labor reports.

However, the job growth may not be fast enough, or in the right industry, for Lamoth. She said the lack of opportunities in her field can get frustrating. She has sent roughly 480 resumes since last September, mainly for writing and editing positions in Seattle, a profession that has continually shrunk its work force and is projected to further decline.

Lamoth has been considering looking for work outside the Seattle area despite being limited to public transportation. She said she takes things a day at a time. “There are days that I’m too depressed to look for work,” Lamoth said. “But I’m not ready to give up.”

FOR VISUALIZATIONS:
Data set: Washington unemployment rates by county, 2000 to 2010.
Date set: Comprehensive state labor market data, 2009


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