Two agency economists join Seattle minimum wage study

Anneliese Vance-Sherman is Employment Security’s regional labor economist for Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish, King, San Juan and Island counties.

Over the past couple years, the issue of raising the minimum wage has ignited debate locally and nationally. Voters in the City of SeaTac approved a $15 per hour minimum wage that took effect in 2014. Shortly after, the City of Seattle approved a new minimum wage that will reach $15 per hour (adjusted for inflation) to be phased in over several years. The Seattle ordinance went into effect on April 1, 2015.


Anneliese Vance-Sherman, Scott Bailey

Employment Security economists Anneliese Vance-Sherman and Scott Bailey are members of the research team studying the effects of Seattle’s minimum wage law.

Following the announcement in Seattle, a number of other governments, businesses and non-government organizations throughout Washington and the U.S. have jumped into the debate, bringing it to a national audience.

Any policy change can have a variety of intended and unintended consequences, and there is no shortage of theories to support both proponents and opponents in this debate.

On the same day the Seattle ordinance was passed, the City Council passed a resolution to study the effects of the new law. The city awarded an interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Washington to conduct the multi-faceted study. The team is taking a neutral stance; they aren’t looking to support one theory or another, but to observe actions taken in response to the change, and the way these actions ripple into Seattle-area communities.

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King County and the story of two high-growth industries

Anneliese Vance-Sherman is Employment Security’s regional labor economist for Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish, King, San Juan and Island counties.

Washington state continues to march forward, leaving behind the economic downturn of seven years ago. King County, with 1.3 million jobs, has arguably led the statewide recovery, and continues to show strong year-over-year job growth in most sectors.

From February 2014 to February 2015, employers in King County created 41,400 jobs—an increase of 3.3 percent. The overwhelming majority of new jobs came from the private sector (38,600 jobs—an increase of 3.6 percent). All major industries expanded over the year, with the bulk of growth observed among service providing industries.

On a percentage basis, the industry that grew its labor force the most was construction. Over the past 12 months, construction industries collectively added 9,200 jobs or 16.4 percent—and gains were widespread, particularly among specialty trade contractors and building construction.

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Labor area summary for Yakima County, January 2015

By Donald  Meseck, ESD’s regional labor economist serving Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Grant, Kittitas, Okanogan and Yakima counties.

This report incorporates not seasonally adjusted, nonfarm employment and civilian labor force data. Analysis focuses on year-over-year (between January 2014 and January 2015) and average annual (between 2013 and 2014) changes in the labor market.

Unemployment rates
Preliminary labor force data show that Washington state’s average annual not seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased nine-tenths of a percentage point between 2013 and 2014, from 7.0 percent to 6.1 percent. Between the Januarys of 2014 and 2015, the rate stabilized at 7.0 percent.

In Yakima County, preliminary data indicate that the average annual unemployment rate decreased nine-tenths of a percentage point between 2013 and 2014, from 9.2 to 8.3 percent. However, the not seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose five-tenths of a point in January 2015 to 12.3 percent, from 11.8 percent in January 2014 (as shown in Figure 1). Why? The number of unemployed residents grew more rapidly than the labor force, hence this five-tenths point year-over-year rise in the rate.


Yakima County unemployment rate

Figure 1. Yakima County’s unemployment rate increased five-tenths of a percentage point between January 2014 and January 2015.

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Walla Walla and Columbia counties: Year in review 2014

Ajsa Suljic is Employment Security’s regional labor economist for Asotin, Benton, Columbia, Garfield, Franklin and Walla Walla counties.

Walla Walla and Columbia County employers added over 220 jobs from December 2013 to December 2014. The job market in the area started improving in November 2013, which marks 14 months of consecutive job growth in the area. This is evidence that the job market is improving with better business confidence to hire, due to larger demand for business products or services.

Total 2014 nonfarm employment (seasonally adjusted) for Walla Walla and Columbia counties

The unemployment rate in Walla Walla County decreased to 6.7 percent in December 2014, while the Columbia County unemployment rate increased to 11.1 percent, compared to 9.5 percent in December 2013. The increase in the Columbia County unemployment rate is attributed to more individuals coming back into the labor force, which increased by 70 people over the year.

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Hiring the long-term unemployed

Marlena Sessions, chief executive officer of the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County, recently posted a guest column for the U.S. Department of Labor Blog.

Her topic is the long-term unemployed and what Washington state is doing to help these workers get hired.

Read the blog post by Marlena Sessions.