Jobs across nearly all sectors will continue to grow throughout Washington, though likely at a slower rate than recent years, labor economists suggest.

Share story

A healthy, booming economy and a low unemployment rate will continue to welcome workers this year. With low supply and high demand for employees, the job-seeker’s market offers a broad range of options.

But as the recession recedes further into the past, government labor economists forecast a slight slowdown in Washington’s employment growth.

“At this point there’s a little bit for everybody,” says Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional labor economist with the state’s Employment Security Department. “But we’re not seeing the same rates of growth that we saw early on [after the recession].”

Following years of solid growth, 2017 was much of the same, with the state’s Economic and Revenue Forecast Council estimating the number of jobs in Washington grew by 3 percent last year.

In 2018, the ERFC expects the rate of job growth to decrease slightly to 2.4 percent. In 2019, the ERFC anticipates the economy will continue to “decelerate gradually as the recovery matures,” with job growth dropping to 1.7 percent in 2019.

However, Josh Warborg, a Seattle-based district president of staffing firm Robert Half, doesn’t see a deceleration in the job market happening anytime soon.

“It is an all-out war for talent,” Warborg says. “We have some pretty good-size companies in Seattle that are consistently adding people and don’t seem to show any signs of slowing down.”

According to Warborg, while the bulk of the demand is for degreed professionals, a labor shortage stretches throughout the entire job market, including roles that don’t typically require a college degree.
ESD data indicate industries with the largest increases of jobs statewide this year will be in professional and business services and in construction, with the largest contraction of jobs in the manufacturing sector.

Tech talent in high demand

It’s no surprise to anyone who has walked through Seattle’s growing South Lake Union neighborhood or driven through Microsoft’s expanding campus in Redmond: Computer and mathematical jobs, particularly in King County, are predicted to continue experiencing high growth rates into 2018, according to Vance-Sherman. Demand is expected to continue as these jobs become more and more ubiquitous across all sectors.

“Technology is continuing to be a larger portion of the workforce than ever before,” says Megan Slabinski, a district president for Robert Half. “There’s increased hiring and net new positions in technology in all of Western Washington.”

According to ESD data, computer and mathematical jobs statewide are projected to grow by 4 percent next year, adding just over 7,000 jobs. In King County, growth in these jobs is expected to be a bit higher at 4.34 percent, adding almost 6,000 jobs.

In Pierce County, much of the same is expected for computer and mathematical jobs in 2018, with ESD data estimating annual growth of 4.41 percent, or the addition of about 300 jobs. In Snohomish County, computer and mathematical jobs are predicted to grow at a slower pace, with an estimated increase of 1.62 percent, adding about 155 jobs.

“They’re still adding jobs, but not at the frenetic pace that companies were hiring in 2017, due to the hangover from the recession,” says Slabinski, of Robert Half, about jobs in the tech industry. “It’s a great sign that companies are still looking to add.”

Slabinski says there’s a high demand for workers with skills in cybersecurity, cloud computing, DevOps (shorthand compound for development and operations) and data analytics.

Economic barometers strong

This year, professional and business services, and the construction industry are expected to see high employment growth rates, according to ESD projections.

“That’s because of where we are in the cycle: We have gone through a recession and there has been a lot of pent-up demand for construction and professional business services,” Vance-Sherman says. “At this point, we expect to see that high growth — and that has been the case.”

To ESD economist Vance-Sherman, these high growth rates for next year are an indication that businesses are feeling optimistic.

Because these two sectors tend to have other businesses as customers, Vance-Sherman says, they are often used as a “bellwether for how other businesses are perceiving the economy.

“These businesses only attract business when their customers are feeling good about the economy,” Vance-Sherman adds.

According to ESD data, employment in the diverse sector of professional and business services, which includes everyone from accountants to janitors to architects to software engineers, is projected to grow 3.32 percent statewide next year.

In King County, ESD projects employment in the category growing by 3.41 percent, but in both Snohomish and Pierce counties, that gain is expected to be slightly higher, at 3.77 percent and 3.71 percent, respectively.

Statewide employment in the construction industry is projected to increase 2.93 percent. In King County, that growth is anticipated to be slightly higher at 3.03 percent — and even higher in Snohomish County, at 3.2 percent. But
in Pierce County, slightly lower employment growth of 2.9 percent is expected in the construction and extraction industry in 2018.

“For the most part, most industries will be adding jobs,” says Steve Lerch, the executive director and chief economist at the ERFC.

He says notable growth projections for next year include over 17,000 jobs in professional and business services, nearly 5,000 jobs in construction and about 15,000 education and health services jobs.

He also expects Washington to add about 8,500 retail jobs and 7,000 jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector.

Manufacturing jobs down

Data from the ESD show the largest decrease in statewide employment next year will occur in the manufacturing sector, which is projected to decline by 1.09 percent.

In King and Snohomish counties, jobs in this sector are expected to decline at a faster rate, decreasing by 2.39 and 2.37 percent respectively, in 2018.

“Snohomish [County] has a lot of eggs in one basket,” Vance-Sherman says. “A lot of jobs in manufacturing and aerospace manufacturing have been sliding, in terms of employment numbers, over the last couple of years.”

ESD data predict Pierce County will fare a bit better, with the manufacturing sector actually growing 1.46 percent.

Low unemployment continues

The state added 105,800 non-farm jobs between October 2016 and October 2017. Another 79,000 non-farm jobs are forecast to be added in 2018, says Lerch.

From November 2016 through November 2017, 12 of the state’s 13 industry sectors added jobs. Manufacturing was the only sector to report job losses, down 1,500 jobs.

Washington’s seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate continues to decline, and in November held steady at 4.5 percent, “equaling the state’s all-time low for unemployment set earlier this year,” according to the ESD. Last October, the state’s unemployment rate stood at 5.3 percent.

In King County, the October unemployment rate was a bit lower at 3.7 percent, but higher in Pierce and Snohomish counties, at 4.7 and 4.1 percent, respectively.

“That’s pretty darn good,” says Lerch. “There’s always going to be some unemployment.”

“Washington’s economic outlook is bright,” Paul Turek, another ESD economist, said in a recent press release. “Unemployment stands at a record low, businesses are adding jobs and more people are joining the labor force. That’s great news for everyone.”