This economic recovery has been the strangest I’ve experienced: A roaring boom in jobs, accompanied by the highest inflation in four decades. The Federal Reserve applied strong medicine with interest rate hikes, but a feared recession hasn’t yet materialized.

Let’s see how the situation has played out in Seattle and Washington.

Jobs. Although the statewide unemployment rate reached nearly 17% in the pandemic spring of 2020, it was 3.7% as of July. In King County it was an astonishing 2.9%. Economists consider 4% to be “full employment.”

Nationally, the economy has created 1.1 million jobs since May, entirely making up the losses from the pandemic and taking away an important issue for Republicans in the midterm elections.

Population. Data on Seattle’s gain or loss from 2020 to 2021 is conflicting, and either way is modest.

During the same period, many big cities saw historic population declines, among them San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C., Boston, St. Louis and Atlanta. So much for the “back to the city” movement that transformed center cities over three decades.


But not so fast. During the past year, Manhattan has seen a rebound in population. So have Dallas, Atlanta, Houston, Miami, D.C., even San Francisco. Manhattan, which lost the most population from the pandemic flight, has regained the most among New York’s boroughs. A year doesn’t make for a long-term trend, but it’s too soon to put a stake in out big cities, including Seattle.

Trade. Many of the tariffs and trade spats that began under the Trump administration have largely continued with President Joe Biden. When former President Donald Trump exited the high-standard Trans-Pacific Partnership, American leadership evaporated, and Biden’s attempt to regain it, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, has faced repeated delays.

Washington is America’s most trade-dependent state. Merchandise trade exports totaled nearly $54 billion in 2021, down from a peak of more than $90 billion in 2014. China remained the state’s largest export partner despite friction between Beijing and the Other Washington.

In 2014, nearly 366,000 jobs were tied to trade here. By 2020, it was less than 139,000.

This year might be slightly better. According to WISERTrade, an analysis firm, exports totaled $35.7 billion through July.

Real estate. Throughout the 2010s, Seattle often ranked at the top of Emerging Trends in Real Estate, the authoritative annual report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Urban Land Institute.


In the latest report, Seattle ranked No. 9, the only West Coast city to make the Top 10. In 2021, Seattle fell to 39. It’s also a big accomplishment considering Seattle’s homeless and crime problems. Nashville, Raleigh-Durham and Phoenix were at the top.

A total of 54% of real estate executives and developers surveyed put a “hold” on Seattle property, with 31% “sell.”

One respondent said, “expanding diversity of population is a catalyst to attracting more diversity and the best talent.” Another pointed to the “rich history of entrepreneurship from Boeing to Paccar — not to mention Amazon, Microsoft, Weyerhaeuser, and retail giants Starbucks, Nordstrom, and Costco, among other local legends. Significant projects underway include a major redevelopment of the central waterfront and expansion of the convention center, as well as headquarters projects for Microsoft and Amazon.”

Seattle was also the construction crane capital for much of the previous decade. Remote work and other consequences of the pandemic put an end to that.

The construction consultancy company Rider Levitt Bucknall’s latest crane count, for the first quarter of this year, stated, “The Seattle crane count is holding steady. The Capitol Hill area showed a resurgence in construction, while downtown saw a reduction in cranes. A review of sector activity finds the majority of cranes are in use at residential sites. Compared to the previous survey, education projects are on the rise, health care facilities are holding constant, and commercial work is declining.”

Toronto, Chicago, New York and San Francisco showed the highest increase in cranes.


The macroeconomic outlook. Seattle and the nation will be at the mercy of the Federal Reserve’s battle with inflation.

So far, the Fed has aggressively raised interest rates without bringing on a recession. Former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan was famous for engineering such “soft landings.” But Greenspan never faced such a combination of a hot economy combined with high inflation. So far, inflation seems to be easing without the recessionary downside.

Lisa Shalett, chief investment officer of Morgan Stanley, wrote, “we appear to be nearing the ‘late’ stage of the current economic cycle, a phase that typically features still-positive but slowing rates of growth in the economy and corporate profitability.”

Some of that profitability no doubt comes from price gouging.

The recently passed, and signed into law by President Joe Biden, Inflation Reduction Act won’t directly bring down prices quickly. But it represents numerous long-overdue investments to address climate change and infrastructure that will more than repay its price tag. Inflation is primarily the job of the Fed.

But parts of the new law will help. Most significant is allowing Medicare to negotiate prices for certain expensive medications and cap out-of-pocket drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries. Also, pharmaceutical companies must give a rebate if drug costs rise faster than inflation.

The future of work. I don’t know. Never returning to the office seems a difficult way to do business for most companies. Even at the pandemic high, only 35% of people could fully work remotely and the number is fast declining.

In a tight labor market, people can indulge in so-called quiet quitting, where employees only do the work in their job descriptions and avoid overtime.

Must be nice. I always ran scared and I always loved my jobs, whether as an EMT-paramedic, a university theater instructor or a journalist. Most people may hate their jobs. On second thought, it doesn’t sound nice at all.