Unemployment Still Dogs Rural Counties

By Jon Talton, March 12, 2014, Seattle Times

Seattle’s prosperity is on display with King County’s 5.2 percent January unemployment rate. But one doesn’t have to travel far to find more serious joblessness, even as measured by this narrow gauge: 7.7 percent in Pierce County. Better than the 9.2 percent of the same month a year earlier, but well above the statewide 6.4 percent.


But the real suffering continues in rural Washington, where many counties show unemployment at crisis levels. Five of the worst showings are in eastern Washington, led by Ferry County at 12.9 percent. Although all 39 counties showed year-to-year improvements, some 30 of them were higher than the state average. (This map shows all county unemployment rates for the month).


Ferry County’s private-sector economy is based on resource extraction, especially mining. The 2008 opening of the Buckhorn Mountain gold mine in adjacent Okanogan County (10.4 percent unemployment) created 180 jobs and fueled a mill in Ferry’s town of Republic. But it was expected to have a life of about seven years. In 2012, the state fined mine owner Crown Resources $395,000 for water quality violations.


This isn’t a story unique to Washington. Unless a rural county was sitting on a fracking boom, it tends to have a higher unemployment rate. For nearly a century, Americans have been moving to cities. State officials struggle to replace economic assets. Thus, for example, one sees the scramble in a state such as North Carolina to use incentives to attract companies.


Unfortunately, they get such things as data centers, each employing a few score workers. It’s not enough to replace the hundreds of thousands of lost textile and apparel jobs lost in those regions.


As it turns out, the world is not flat.

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