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State, county jobless rates rise

Wed., Nov. 19, 2008, midnight

Holiday hiring likely to suffer as data indicate retailers are paring positions in Washington

’Tis not the season to be hiring by Washington storekeepers, a sign Christmas may not be so jolly for workers hoping for temporary employment through the holidays, state officials said Tuesday.

Although this is the time of year retailers would normally hire extra help, figures released Tuesday by the Washington Employment Security Department show a loss of 1,700 positions since September and 2,700 from last October. And unlike reductions in other service industries where job reductions have been steady since earlier in the year, most of the positions in retail have been pared in the past few months, said Chief Labor Economist Mary Ayala.

“The retail sector last month really started to show the effect of the credit market,” Ayala said during an update of Washington employment numbers for October.

Reluctant to project retail employment trends beyond the next few months, Ayala nevertheless said she does not see an upturn until consumer confidence is restored and spending rebounds.

Overall, Washington added 800 jobs between September and October once allowances are made for the effects of the 6-week strike against the Boeing Co. Those jobs are considered lost, although the striking workers themselves are not considered unemployed, Ayala said.

The strike ended Nov. 1.

Unemployment rates for Washington and Spokane County climbed in October despite growth in the number of residents with jobs, according to department estimates.

The Washington rate rose to 6.3 percent from 5.8 percent in September. The rate was 4.8 percent in October 2007.

In Spokane County, the rate increased to 5.8 percent from 5.4 percent in September and 4.1 percent a year ago.

Total county employment, at 225,090, is down about 1,000 from October 2007, but up about 2,500 over September.

Almost 14,000 are unemployed in the county, almost 204,000 in the state.

The Spokane unemployment rate is not adjusted for seasonal variation, as the state number is. Unadjusted, the state rate is also 5.8 percent.

The national unemployment rate, seasonally adjusted, was 6.5 percent in October.

The rates in neighboring counties were: Adams, 4.6 percent; Ferry, 7.9 percent; Lincoln, 5.7 percent; Pend Oreille, 7.9 percent; Stevens, 7.9 percent; and Whitman, 4.2 percent.

Doug Tweedy, the department’s regional economist in Spokane, said he was encouraged by the report for October, during which Boeing suppliers were forced to lay off employees until the strike ended. The unemployment rate should go down as those workers get back onto shop floors, he said.

Tweedy said the local economy will benefit from its diversification and durability of many employers who have weathered previous down cycles by becoming more efficient and expanding their markets. Air and rail transportation have also been strong, he said.

He said retail jobs in the Spokane area have churned as more expensive goods like automobiles and boats have sold more slowly and consumers have changed buying habits.

The Washington numbers were released one day after Oregon reported the loss of 14,000 jobs in October, which lifted the unemployment rate there to 7.3 percent.

In Idaho, the October jobless rate doubled from levels a year ago, to 5.5 percent. The rates in North Idaho counties were substantially higher, running from 6.6 percent in Kootenai County to 11.6 percent in Shoshone County.


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