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Select slides on Washington State’s economic recovery tell mixed story

It’s worth reviewing some of the economic data of the moment to fully appreciate what we’re going through and where we’ve been.

The Dept. of Commerce has a Data Dashboard that tells quite a story in Washington State.

Some of this narrative we know, but it’s worthwhile to see the story visually. That’s the case for unemployment filings in the state.

This first graph shows the initial claims filed (orange) and the ongoing claims filed (blue). The trend is stark. It’s even more stark when you isolate for just new initial claims filed, as is shown below.

People are getting back to work and feeling economically secure enough that new claims are very low.

These next slides are perhaps the most jarring in how positive they are.

For example, the manufacturing sector is up 82% YOY (year over year) and is on a steep upward trend.

The incline in the trend as the economy was taking off in the early part of the year is stark. The same is true with retail sales, shown below.

It’s here, however, that we can start to see a more nuanced story about Washington State’s performance.

While this retail sales rebound was generally applicable statewide, the west side of the mountains continued to economically outperform the east side of the mountains, at least by some measures. This graph shows the taxable retail sales by county, for instance.

This becomes even more stark when looking at social support programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In many rural counties, 1 in 5 residents is on this food stamp program.

But this doesn’t tell the whole story. It turns out employment levels, indexed to January 2020 before the pandemic, show that jobs are coming back in parts of the state faster than they are in King County.

This tells me that we are cementing a “working poor” demographic in parts of our state, particularly in Eastern Washington, where full time employment isn’t always enough to get by without social supports like SNAP food stamps.

The economic recovery is wide in the state. However, in some geographies — and likely in select demographies as well — the recovery is unlikely to be as complete as we would want.

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