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February 16, 2017

Washington sees better economic averages than U.S. in most categories (w/video)

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Steve Lerch, executive director of Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, giving a presentation to AWB Lobby Lunch attendees.

If you live in Seattle and think it’s representative of the statewide economy, Washington’s chief economist has news for you.

“Not really.”

Steve Lerch, executive director of the state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, told AWB’s Lobby Lunch audience Thursday that the economic boom in the central Puget Sound has not been seen throughout the state.

For example, it took Seattle until June 2013 to return to the number of jobs it had at the peak in February 2008, before the start of the Great Recession. But in many rural areas, it took much longer. Yakima didn’t return to pre-recession job numbers until November, 2014. It took Bellingham until January 2015 and Mount Vernon didn’t fully recover until January 2016. Since then, Mount Vernon has actually seen a small drop in employment.

“It’s not translating to the rest of the state,” Lerch said.

On the bright side, Lerch said that Washington state’s economy is doing better than the national economic average in many respects.

During the past year, Lerch said employment growth in construction, retail trade, education and health services, leisure and hospitality and professional businesses services in Washington exceeded the nation’s average. But, he noted one dark spot in Washington’s economy: the sluggish manufacturing sector, which is approximately two percent lower than the nation’s average.

Nationwide, exports last year “were about flat,” Lerch said, because of some previously fast-growing but now slowing economies including China, Brazil, and South Africa. However, Washington exports, while still declining, are doing so at a rate lower than the national level, he said.

Lerch also addressed Washington’s workforce, saying that percent of change in the labor force participation rate has dropped 3.2 percent in the past nine years. “That’s a real drag on the economy,” he said.

In closing, Lerch noted that state revenue is expected to grow 6.7 percent during the 2017-19 biennia, or roughly $2.6 billion.

State revenues are now estimated at $110 million up from the November forecast, Lerch said, which means revenue forecast in March is predicted to be adjusted higher.

In fact, state tax collections are growing faster than personal growth right now, something that’s generally not the case.

“Historically, revenue growth is lower than personal income growth,” Lerch said. “Lately, revenue is growing faster than personal income growth.”