New employment data shows WA’s rural, forested areas are still lagging

Rural Washington still lags far behind the rest of the state and the nation in terms of joblessness. How much worse? On the map below, counties colored red are doing better than the national unemployment rate for May 2017 of 4.3%; grey indicates they’re doing worse. And it’s easy to see that in most areas outside of the urban centers of the state – regions where sustainable forestry operations can be working to accomplish a range of shared objectives through environmental stewardship – are anywhere from battleship grey to charcoal. Hover over each county to see how far behind (or ahead) of the pace they are.

So, as Washington’s more populous cities boom, life is still noticeably rougher in more far-flung parts of our state where unemployment is significantly higher than places like high-tech metropolitan Seattle. And recent changes to state wage and employment laws are making it harder for these areas to catch up. Every little bit of genuine economic activity helps if we’re going to avoid more spending to offset a decades-long downturn.

There is an answer in our working forests. Because Washington state’s forest practices are engineered for sustainability and environment benefit, even a nominal increase in activity on forested lands can create jobs in rural communities and put more foresters on the job tending to environmental concerns.

And science is telling us that Washington’s working forestry jobs are often the greenest jobs around. Emerging wood products industries – biofuel now in trials for commercial jet travel, biomass energy production, and modern mass timber building materials such as CLT – may be Washington’s most sustainable economic sector, and one is firmly rooted here, literally.