September 17, 2008 in Business

Washington jobless rate climbing

Unemployment near 4-year high even as employment increases
By The Spokesman-Review
 

The unemployment rate in Washington climbed to its highest level in almost four years last month, and the State Employment Security Department’s top economist Tuesday predicted harder times ahead as layoffs mount.

The rate also climbed in Spokane County, even as employment increased. As was the case for all of Washington, employment numbers just didn’t rise as fast as the the number of those looking for work.

The state jobless rate reached 6 percent for the first time since November 2004, with continued erosion in construction activity the major cause. Builders have cut 7,100 jobs in the last year, goods producers by 6,000.

Those numbers were offset by a 15,000-job increase in government employment, 9,300 in professional and business services, and 7,400 in education and health services.

The unemployment rate a year ago was 4.5 percent.

Dave Wallace, whose last day as the employment security department’s acting chief economist was Tuesday, said he does not foresee a turnaround in job numbers until next year. Some major employers – Weyerhaeuser Corp., Alaska Airlines, and Washington Mutual Bank among them – have announced work force reductions that have not been fully implemented and will not show up in state statistics for some time.

“I think we’ll see more negative news,” said Wallace, who will be succeeded by Mary Ayala, a former staff economist for the Oregon Legislative Revenue Committee and senior forecaster and economist for the Florida Department of Revenue.

Although the unemployment rate in Spokane County increased to 6.2 percent from 4.6 percent a year ago and from 6 percent in July, chief regional labor analyst Doug Tweedy said he was “pleasantly surprised looking at those numbers.”

Employers added more than 800 jobs in July and August, bringing total employment to 217,240. Health care and education remain strong, he said. The transportation and warehousing sector has come on and, unlike some other regions, retailers have been hiring, adding 700 workers in the last year.

The jobless rate went up because the labor force increased by 1,340.

Tweedy said people are migrating to Spokane in search of work and, based on information they are reporting to the local WorkSource office, they have skills that should be attractive to local businesses.

He encouraged workers to seek help with training, resumes or interviews at the Spokane office, 130 S. Arthur St., or on the WorkSource Web site, www.go2worksource.com.

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