WorkForce Central released Pierce County’s latest employment numbers last week, and, unsurprisingly, the unemployment rate is down after a typical post-holiday spike. But hold the champagne: there’s a lot to unpack here.
It’s not particularly common to see a diversion in the direction of unemployment rates for the U.S., Washington State and Pierce County. Generally, when the national unemployment rate drops, so do the Washington and Pierce rates. One rate might change more or less than the others, but they usually rise or fall in tandem.
While this principle remained true for the month-over rate (all three rates fell from February to March), the picture is different year-over-year: the national overall rate is lower than it was a year ago and Washington’s remains the same as last year, but Pierce’s is higher.
Pierce County has endured a higher unemployment rate than Washington overall for more than a decade. But it made big gains throughout 2017 and began 2018 just 0.4% higher than Washington’s rate. Then March 2018 unraveled all the gains of the past year, opening a 0.9% spread between Washington’s rate and our own.
But the story doesn’t end there. The gap between Washington’s rate and the nation overall is now in its fifth consecutive month with a gap of 0.7% or higher. Such a long lagging streak hasn’t happened in at least a decade. While it is common to see a slower January/February in Washington than in the rest of the nation, the numbers typically catch up by March.
These metrics will be important to track in the coming months. We’d be getting ahead of ourselves to declare a “slowdown” just yet, as summer hiring has big impacts on the local economy. But it is beginning to look less likely that Pierce County can get as close as it did last year to closing its gap with the state, and it doesn’t appear possible to close its gap with the nation any time soon.
April’s employment numbers are expected to publish the week of Memorial Day.