Cargo transportation was among the various regional industries driving wage and employment growth in King County. Photo via PxHere

Cargo transportation was among the various regional industries driving wage and employment growth in King County. Photo via PxHere

King County Employment Continues to Rise

New statistics show a decrease in unemployment and higher average pay, but the growth may start to slow.

Newly released data from the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics confirm what we all already knew: King County’s growing economy is chugging along at a quick clip.

From September 2016 through September 2017, King County had the largest bump in employment among nine other large counties in the state of Washington, increasing by almost 3 percent. Last year’s increase brings the total number of employed people in King County to 1,367,100 (King County’s population is a little over 2 million).

Additionally, wages increased during that time frame. The bureau reported that average weekly wages in King County increased by almost 3 percent—coming in second to Yakima County—while King County maintained the highest average weekly wage at $1,626.The Bureau of Labor Statistics ranked King County’s average weekly wage growth among the top 20 counties nationwide.

“Year over year growth … [has] been really consistent for the last couple years,” says Anneliese Vance-Sherman, an economist with the Washington state Employment Security Department specializing in the central Puget Sound region. “It still seems like there is a lot of momentum, especially in the Seattle area.”

The majority of both the employment and wage growth is driven by two broad industry categories: information services (i.e. the tech sector) and the combination of the trade, transportation, and utility industries. The latter category includes retail and wholesale trade, cargo transportation and warehousing, and utility services. Other key sectors fueling employment growth include the construction, education, and healthcare industries.

Vance-Sherman attributes the spike in wages to high-paying tech jobs skewing the weekly average. “In King County, when you’re seeing an increase in the average wage, absolutely that has to do with the creation of a lot of high wage jobs related to IT.”

According to BLS’s analysis, the ten largest counties in Washington State—all boasting employment tallies of 75,000 or more—accounted for 85 percent of total employment in the state during the 2016-17 time frame.

After losing 79,000 jobs immediately following the 2008 recession, King County has been at the forefront of the statewide economic recovery. And the region’s population and economy are only expected to grow. The Puget Sound Regional Council projects that the central Puget Sound region—which includes portions of King, Snohomish, and Pierce Counties—will add a little over 1 million jobs and almost 2 million more people by 2050.

Vance-Sherman has a slightly more cautious take, arguing that while she doesn’t foresee an imminent economic slowdown, that regional economic growth won’t continue at its current rapid rate forever.

“Certainly we’re not likely to keep up the pace that we’ve had,” she says. “What you’re going to see … is that the unemployment rate is going to continue to decline, but not by much.”

jkelety@seattleweekly.com

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