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Census: Newcomers to Whatcom County finding service-industry jobs

Census figures consistently show that one of the biggest drags on Whatcom County’s economy is its reliance on low-paying service-industry jobs. The latest set of data from the U.S. Census Bureau reveals that this is especially true for newcomers.

Thirty-one percent of new residents reported holding service jobs from 2008 to 2012, according to five-year American Community Survey data released Wednesday, Sept. 3. The Census Bureau includes under “service occupations” certain jobs in education, health care, social services and the food industry.

In Washington state, 17 percent of the working population 16 and older have service jobs.

Looking at the data on new residents, it appears the county is not keeping up with the state as a whole in what might be called non-service “white collar” and “blue collar” jobs. While 62 percent of the state does office work, or works in sales, management, business, the sciences or the arts, 52 percent of the people moving here held that kind of job in 2008-12.

Statewide, 21 percent of workers are in jobs such as timber, construction, maintenance, manufacturing, transportation or shipping. Sixteen percent of people who moved here had one of these blue-collar jobs in 2008-12.

These statistics do not account for the jobs held by people who move within the county or don’t move at all. The county is only slightly higher than the state for service-industry employment — 19.5 percent to 17 percent. Blue-collar employment is the same in the county and the state; the county’s white-collar job figure is 3 percentage points below the state’s.

Looking more broadly at migration trends for Whatcom, King County is both the largest source of new residents and the most likely destination for movers. About two out of five incoming freshman at Western Washington University come from the state’s most populous county, according to data provided by the university.

The new census data confirm what is strongly suggested by the same surveys from 2006-10 and 2007-11: Statistics on people moving to the county are heavily weighted by incoming college students. The 2006-10 survey showed the median age of newcomers to the county was 23. The next five-year survey showed the median annual income of those moving to the county was about $10,000 below the countywide median.

In the latest round of data, the Census Bureau focused on employment status. A majority (54 percent) of people who moved to the county from 2008 to 2012 were, at most, employed part time and only for part of the year.

The Census Bureau conducts five-year surveys to collect statistically relevant data on smaller population groups, such as counties.

California has a reputation for being the source of a lot of Whatcom County’s newcomers. The 2008-12 survey shows California’s reputation around here is well earned.

The same data set shows that more people actually left Whatcom County for California than came here from the Golden State.

California is the third-most-likely place of origin for people moving to the county. More than 600 people a year, or one in 19 newcomers, moved to the county from California.

About 1,000 people a year, or one-tenth of movers, left the county for California from 2008 to 2012.

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