Whatcom County ended 2016 on a fairly solid note in the job department – more workers entered the labor market while the unemployment rate remained in check.
The area’s unemployment rate was 6 percent in December, down slightly from the same period in 2015 (6.1 percent) and 2014 (6.3 percent), according to data from the Washington State Employment Security Department.
A big change was in the employment numbers. Last month 100,357 Whatcom County residents had jobs: 2,166 more than December 2015 and 3,561 more than two years ago.
In specific industries, some of the biggest jumps in 2016 were in manufacturing (up 600 jobs), state government (up 300) and leisure/hospitality (up 200). Areas that were down year-to-year include construction (down 300) and retail trade (down 300).
The local labor force is bouncing back after what was considered an unusual recession from a job standpoint, said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional labor economist for the state. While the state economy started to recover in 2010 from the recession, the Whatcom County labor force didn’t start bouncing back until early 2015.
There were a number of factors at play for the job lag, she said, including demographics (many people simply retired), students stayed in school longer and workers took themselves out of the labor force to get trained. Employment has recovered more quickly in urban areas compared to rural counties, she said.
“Whatcom County, similar to many counties in the state, had a lagged recovery, but we are seeing that recovery pick up both in terms of the numbers of jobs and in terms of the number of workers,” she said.
At 3.4 percent, King County had the lowest unemployment rate in the state in December. Snohomish County came in at 3.9 percent while Skagit was at 6.8 percent. Ferry County had the highest rate last month, at 11.5 percent.