Seattle-Area Unemployment at Late 2008 Levels

Let’s have a look at the jobs data for February and how the Seattle area’s unemployment rate and approximate labor participation rate alongside the national numbers.

Unemployment & Labor Participation

In February the Seattle area’s unemployment rate hit its lowest level since September 2008 at 5.1%. The national unemployment rate is still a bit higher at 6.7%, also roughly on-par with late 2008 levels.

The Seattle-area labor participation inched up in February to 70.0%. The national labor force participation rate was steady at 63.0%. Since 2011 the Seattle-area labor participation rate has held relatively steady, while the national level has fallen about a point.

For reference, in 2006 when everyone imagined the economy to be in great health, the local unemployment rate averaged 4.3% and the labor participation rate averaged 69.5%.

Here’s a look at the local and national unemployment rates with Washington’s statewide rate thrown in as well.

Seattle-Area Unemployment Rate

Washington as a whole is trending much more closely to the national levels.

Next week we’ll look at how specific job sectors are performing in the Seattle area.


Seasonally adjusted series used for all data sets.

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About The Tim

Tim Ellis is the founder of Seattle Bubble. His background in engineering and computer / internet technology, a fondness of data-based analysis of problems, and an addiction to spreadsheets all influence his perspective on the Seattle-area real estate market. Tim also hosts the weekly improv comedy sci-fi podcast Dispatches from the Multiverse.


  1. 1
    redmondjp says:

    I had to chuckle after reading the title, as that is exactly when I was laid off from my previous job!

  2. 2
    Erik Heiberg says:

    Tim, any way you can include “Real Unemployment Rate” or U-6 on the chart? I’m assuming “Unemployment” above is the percentage of people who are currently receiving unemployment benefits correct? Just because someone’s benefits have run out, doesn’t mean they’re no longer unemployed, IMO :)

  3. 3
    Christian Wathne says:

    Erik, showing U6 is all but pointless; it and the other measures of unemployment correlate almost perfectly linearly with the “official unemployment rate” known as U3.

    The point of these graphs is to see the trend. And for the Seattle area it is a very good trend!

  4. 4
    Mike says:

    Erik, look at the labor force participation rate in the plot- it’s much closer to U6. That number is good in Seattle (70%) but pretty awful nationwide.

    New numbers from the BLS come out tomorrow, 8:30AM.

  5. 5
    Blurtman says:

    Median household income has not recovered however.

    Historical Inflation Adjusted Median Family Income for Seattle

    Date US Washington Seattle
    2012 $62,527 $69,937 $80,844
    2011 $62,739 $70,062 $80,817
    2010 $63,827 $70,903 $80,957
    2009 $65,387 $73,178 $84,460
    2008 $67,574 $75,180 $86,369
    2007 $67,742 $73,799 $86,628
    2006 $66,650 $72,548 $84,046
    2005 $65,666 $70,659 $79,825

  6. 6
    Christian Wathne says:

    I’ll start by stating that I’m bullish on the housing prices in the more desirable areas of Seattle (ie, downtown/capitol hill/queen anne/slu/etc, and not kent/everett/goldbar/white center.

    What I see from the numbers Blurtman posted is that inflation adjusted median incomes across the US is down about 5% from 2005, and flat in Seattle; that means Seattle is doing significantly better than the majority of the country.

    Here’s the thing about median income though…take this example. There are 10 people in the population and 6 of them earn $50,000 per year, 2 make $80,000 and 2 make $200,000 per year. 10 years later the incomes of the 6 goes to $55,000, 2 make $120,000 and the top 2 make $500,000.

    At the start of the time period the median income was 50k and at the end of the time period the median income was 55k. The top 40% of people (aka the people actually buying homes) just went WAY UP and that fact is 100% overlooked by just looking at the medium income of the total population.

    What we’ve got to look at is some kind of distribution chart or list.

  7. 7
    Blurtman says:

    RE: Christian Wathne @ 5 – Sure. No question. Further, might like to see that data for potential home buyers. But also compare mortgage rates across the time periods. I am guessing they were higher in 2006.

  8. 8

    RE: Erik Heiberg @ 2

    Not to Worry

    Ultra Conservative FOX Business is alleging this morning all sectors hiring. By sectors do they mean:

    Fast food
    P/T positions, like Dollar Store
    Circle K
    Seahawk $5 Tee Shirt Stands

    I went into the Homerun restaurant last night to cash in a certificate for my dinner. They were delighted to see me. I got a $20 total cost meal for about $9, with tax, tip and certificate fee [$1.60 for $10 off $15]. The place was a ghost town, the two waiters spent the evening chatting with me.

    I see they’re raising gas to $4/gal, in time for Memorial Day. They tried that last year too and it failed, evidently we stopped driving and eating. Then gas shot back down. Bought $10 burgers for me and my son at the Covington’s Gonzos Bar with a BOGO last Sunday; they used to be a big 1/3 patty…..not anymore, they shrunk ’em to about 1/6th lb and gobbed mayo on it to make up for no meat….tasted horrible BTW. That place had five other customers, not orderring food and cradling their happy hour beers…..

  9. 9

    RE: Blurtman @ 4

    Useless Chart IMO

    Get the household incomes that could “actually” be in the market for Seattle real estate today [albeit don’t qualify for a home loan here, even $100K]; like the Millenials.

    Then try like $20-30K. $40K might be stretching it too high.

    Newer used cars are selling at new car prices….they don’t qualify for the new ones that ended up repossessed to a large extent 5-10 years ago. Now when they repossess them, they already got like 3 years of previous payments before the poor bought it [no loss]….its even worse in Venezuala….you can’t even find any cars for the poor.

  10. 10

    The Rich are Still Pumping Up the Stock Market

    To lure the middle class back in like the 90s, to help pump it up to a like DOW 20,000; then they sell all their stock first, as it collapses like 50%.

  11. 11
    KyleK says:

    Haha… I see the commenters here are desperate for some bad news. Calling Seattle anything but what it is right now (if I have to tell you, you really should focus on something other than analysis in your life path) is just silly.

    Regarding the housing market — some really intersting things going on, this blog tends to focus on SFH/Condos — but the apartment market right now if fascinating. Ballard alone is doubling its apartment stock in total just in buildings opening in 2014/2015. I have to think that this will put downwards pressure on rents — which is a good thing. How that impacts the SFH market remains to be seen.

    I tend to think that Seattle SFH stock will see a demand bump as urbanization makes apartments and condos the norm (we have to be close to that tipping point already.) Tim — do you have access to that data (SFH as a percentage of Seattle housing stock?) I know we went north of 50% “multi family” a few years ago — but multi family included things like town houses and ADUs.

  12. 12
    Blurtman says:

    RE: softwarengineer @ 9 – yes, debt load and debt capacity must also be taken into account. But don’t look in the rear view mirror for too long without looking around and ahead. Doom and gloomsterism can become an ideology if left unchecked.

  13. 13
    The Tim says:

    By KyleK @ 11:

    Tim — do you have access to that data (SFH as a percentage of Seattle housing stock?) I know we went north of 50% “multi family” a few years ago — but multi family included things like town houses and ADUs.

    2012 Census data is the best available data on this as far as I am aware. Here’s what they have for the city of Seattle:

    Total housing units: 309,612 – 44.4% 1-unit detached (SFH)
    Occupied housing units: 289,790 – 45.9% owner-occupied, 54.1% renter-occupied

  14. 14
    boater says:

    Out of curiosity Tim is it easy for you to find those same stats for San Francisco?

    Yes I know Seattle isn’t San Francisco but I think it appeals to the same types of people so it’s an interesting comparison to look at. Maybe we’re San Francisco thirty years ago maybe fifteen.

  15. 15
    The Tim says:

    RE: boater @ 14 – No problem. Data from – 2012 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates

    San Francisco
    Total housing units: 376,899 – 19.0% 1-unit detached (SFH), 12.9% 1-unit attached (rowhouses, I assume)
    Occupied housing units: 346,842 – 36.0% owner-occupied, 64.0% renter-occupied

    Total housing units: 309,612 – 44.4% 1-unit detached (SFH), 4.7% 1-unit attached
    Occupied housing units: 289,790 – 45.9% owner-occupied, 54.1% renter-occupied

  16. 16
    ChrisM says:

    RE: Christian Wathne @ 3 – “Erik, showing U6 is all but pointless; it and the other measures of unemployment correlate almost perfectly linearly with the “official unemployment rate” known as U3.”

    Hi Christian – interesting comment. Can you elaborate why we would ever expend the effort to differentiate between U3 & U6? Do you find them indistinguishable? In other words, are they always the same?


  17. 17
    boater says:

    I assume 1 unit attached includes townhouses. It’ll be fun to look at Seattle’s numbers again after all the rental building going on right now is finished.

  18. 18
    Laney says:

    Thanks for all the helpful info. Im a transplant from Texas looking for any kind of work. Does anyone on here have any suggestions?

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