Kitsap sees gradual job growth in first quarter

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Like our fickle spring weather, employment numbers in the first three months of the year showed bright spots amid some lingering gloom.

Jobs in Kitsap

Jobs are more plentiful in Kitsap County than a year ago, with about 900 more people employed by Kitsap employers in March 2014 than March 2013. But the county lagged behind the state overall in job creation over the same period (1.1 percent growth compared to 2.1 percent). And employment in Kitsap still isn’t where it was at the start of the recession.

“We dug ourselves a pretty good hole so it’s going to take a while to dig out of it,”said Jim Vleming, regional economist for the state Employment Security Department.

March employment in Kitsap peaked above 87,000 jobs between 2006 and 2008. We’re still clawing our way back to 2005 levels:

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Lower government employment remains a big part of the puzzle. Kitsap added 1,600 private sector jobs over the last year while losing 700 government jobs (500 federal).

As we’ve reported in the Sun, the Bremerton shipyard is in the midst of hiring about 1,800 employees. Vleming said he expects those hires to register in jobs reports later this spring. Hiring in general should pick up around the county as the year progresses, he said.

“I think we’ll definitely see increased job growth,” Vleming said. “I think the outlook is pretty decent.”

Unemployment

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The unemployment rate among Kitsap County residents was down from previous years, averaging about 6.6 percent in the first quarter of 2014, compared to 7.7 percent in 2013.

That may sound like good news. It’s not.

The unemployment rate is the percentage of the total labor force that is unemployed. To be counted as unemployed, a jobless person must actively be looking for work.

There are two main ways the unemployment rate drops: Job seekers find work and are no longer counted as unemployed, or job seekers give up on finding a job and are no longer counted as unemployed. We’ve seen the latter in Kitsap.

A total of 1,580 people left Kitsap’s labor force between March 2013 and March 2014. That caused the the unemployment rate to drop, even as the number of employed Kitsap residents fell by 510 over the same period.

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The same factors played out between February to March this year. The labor force shrunk by 330 people while employment rose by about 30. The unemployment rate to dropped from 7 percent to 6.7 percent.

For now, a falling unemployment rate in Kitsap mostly reflects the disillusionment of job seekers. We’ll have more to celebrate when we see a growing labor force combined with growing employment.

The full employment report for March is posted below:

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