The Great Recession hit Washington in early 2008, and four years later residents continue to suffer from its widespread impacts. Washington’s total nonfarm growth reached just 1% in 2010, gaining 26,400 jobs across industries. During 2011, the state experienced 1.9% growth in nonfarm industries, gaining 53,500 jobs. This growth is slight compared to the nearly 200,000 jobs lost over the previous two years, but it is the second year of job gains for many industries.
While some industries have experienced loss and growth proportional to the state’s overall economic changes, a few sectors have been particularly hard hit, including construction and public service. Jobs in other industries have continued to grow over the last four years. Between December 2010 and December 2011, as Washington’s overall economy showed initial signs of stabilization, industries exhibited wide variations in job loss and growth.
With little overall job growth, it is no surprise that unemployment has remained high. In the early 2000s, the unemployment rate rose as the state moved out of the recession of 2001. Job growth tends to lag behind gross domestic product growth coming out of a recession, but by 2004 jobs were increasing as the economy continued to grow. However, with the onset of the Great Recession, Washington’s average rate of unemployment increased rapidly, nearly doubling between 2007 and 2009.
By the end of 2010, the state’s monthly unemployment rate had begun to decline, falling from 10% in January and February to 9.3% in December. However, the state still saw an increase in the average annual unemployment rate, due to persistently high rates early in the year and limited declines by the year’s end. The annual average increased from 9.3% in 2009 to 9.6% in 2010 before dropping to 9.2% in 2011 – the first decline in five years.
As people have lost their jobs or had their hours cut, many have become ineligible for workplace benefits. For many families, this means losing access to essential services, such as health care, when financial resources are most strained. Further, the percentage of employers offering benefits to full-time employees dropped between 2002 and 2010.
With increased loss of benefits, the number of Washingtonians without health insurance has grown, particularly since the official end of the Great Recession. In 2008, Washington’s rate of uninsured was better than the U.S. rate by nearly 3%. However, as health coverage declined, Washington’s proportion of uninsured actually surpassed that of the U.S. in 2010.
Between 2008 and the end of 2010, the rate of uninsured worsened in 31 out of 39 Washington counties and 180,000 people became newly uninsured. Currently, about one million Washingtonians do not have health coverage. Nearly 500,000 of these individuals are employed.
A lack of benefits and persistent unemployment have forced families to live on diminishing incomes, pushing more working families into poverty. For both Washington and the nation, the poverty rate has grown continuously since 2008. However, the state’s rate of poverty has remained consistently lower than that of the U.S. In 2010, nearly 900,000 Washingtonians – one out of every eight residents – lived below the poverty threshold, earning less than $22,314 for a family of four.
While Washington’s overall poverty rate is lower than that of the U.S., a larger share of Washingtonians relies on food stamps. Need has increased most significantly since 2008, with Washington’s participation rate climbing from 12.6% in 2008 to 18.6% in 2010. To be eligible to receive Basic Food, Washington’s food stamp program, households can earn up to 200% of the federal poverty level, or $3,725 per month for a family of four.
The increased use of food assistance indicates that even those families not living beneath the formal poverty guideline are still struggling economically. While 900,000 Washingtonians lived in poverty in 2010, another one million survived on near-poverty incomes. As rates of poverty increased through 2010, so too did the number of people living just above the poverty line.
Excerpted from Washington's Economy: Back in the frying pan for 2012 Last updated 03/08/2012