It has been four years since the Great Recession began taking its toll on Washington’s economy. Today, it’s difficult to be even cautiously optimistic about news of recent growth. Revised employment numbers show nearly 2% growth for Washington’s industries in 2011. Given 2010’s 0.8% growth rate, you could call this is a step in the right direction – but only a very small step.
Given several years of increasing poverty and growing numbers of residents without health coverage, at this rate it will take many more years before we see any substantial economic relief for middle-class families. How many more years? Here’s some perspective:
To date, Washington’s economy is nearly 300,000 jobs in the hole. Just 53,500 jobs were created here in 2011 – about 4458 per month. To make up the job gap created by the recession and continued population growth, our economy needs to create 11,000 new jobs per month – for three straight years. With just 100 new jobs created between November and December in 2011, it’s safe to say a full recovery is a long way off.
Making matters worse, state lawmakers continue to undercut workforce investments by approving spending cuts year after year. In a downturn, state spending is essential to stimulate job creation and economic development. In addition to directly supporting public sector jobs, more than 60% of state spending flows to private industries.
The state’s Economic and Revenue Forecast Council anticipates growth will remain sluggish in the coming years, and growth could be further stalled if the legislature passes another all-cuts budget. Had legislators instead taken action to ensure Washington’s General Fund kept pace with income growth, the state could have invested millions back into our economy, protecting tens of thousands of jobs over the past few difficult years.
One piece of good news: unemployment continues to decline, now down to 8.3% for Washington and the U.S. Further, most sectors are beginning to add jobs, meaning more workers will have money to spend in local economies. Still, unless Washington state is able to make serious investments in the labor force, growth prospects will remain stunted in the years to come.
Get the full scoop on the state of Washington’s economy in our latest report: Washington’s economy: Back in the frying pan for 2012.