When it comes to finding a job, there's a definite split taking place between rural and urban areas in Washington state.
With unemployment rates of 5.6 percent and 6.3 percent last month, King and Snohomish counties appear to have some of the healthier job markets in the U.S., according to the latest data from the Washington State Employment Security Department.
Much of the rest of the state is dealing with stagnant job growth, however. In 24 of the 39 counties, most of which are populated with small communities, the unemployment rate is 10 percent or higher.
Whatcom County, which has both rural and urban living, is in the middle of the split, posting an unemployment rate of 8.6 percent in February. That's up slightly from a revised rate of 8.4 percent in January. Last month's local unemployment rate is the highest since February 2012.
"We clearly have an urban-rural dichotomy taking place right now," said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional labor economist for the department. "Statewide, job growth is uneven, most of which is being propelled by what's happening in King and Snohomish counties."
She noted a significant amount of job growth in the state is coming from professional and business services and the aerospace industry, both of which are concentrated in the greater Seattle area.
The urban-rural split in the job market has been observed in Washington for quite some time, but it has become more pronounced as the state comes out of the last recession, said Hart Hodges, director at Western Washington University's Center for Economic and Business Research. But it can be difficult to determine how Whatcom County fits into the trend, he said.
"We're not rural like a small farming community several hundred miles from a big city. But we're also not a big city," Hodges said in an email, noting that he typically asks the question of whether Whatcom is a rural or urban area to audiences at local economic presentations. "(The) answer to that question will have strong implications for what you should expect to find here in the near future in terms of job mix and unemployment."
Hodges expects the split between rural and urban job markets to remain in place for a while, noting the lack of strong economic drivers in more rural areas, with the exception of energy and a few other sectors.
While Whatcom's unemployment rate in February was slightly higher than January, the area did add 400 nonfarm jobs during that time period. Vance-Sherman noted that the first two months of the year usually have the highest local unemployment rates of the year. Typically, Whatcom's unemployment rate will drop between March and May as seasonal work in construction and agriculture pick up.
King County had the lowest unemployment rate in the state, while Ferry County had the highest, at 15.1 percent. The state rate, not seasonably adjusted, was 8.2 percent in February. Seasonably adjusted, Washington's unemployment rate was 7.5 percent.