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Ranks of jobless still growing

Job seekers James Garry, left,  and Jeremy Ehrmantrout  stand outside the WorkSource building in Spokane on Tuesday.   (CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON / The Spokesman-Review)
Job seekers James Garry, left, and Jeremy Ehrmantrout stand outside the WorkSource building in Spokane on Tuesday. (CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON / The Spokesman-Review)

at 10.6 percent, rate enters new realm

Spokane County unemployment surged to 10.6 percent in March – almost double the rate of a year ago – as the number of jobless workers climbed to more than 26,000.

Unemployment in the county had not reached 10 percent since February 1987, said Doug Tweedy, regional economist for the state Employment Security Department.

More than 3,500 workers in Spokane County lost their jobs last month. Almost 6,300 have become unemployed since March 2008.

The work force, meanwhile, has grown in the past year by more than 6,000 people, to 245,720.

Jeremy Ehrmantrout, 26, is one of the newcomers.

A construction worker since he helped his father out at age 12, Ehrmantrout said he moved to Spokane because business had tanked in Snohomish County.

Spokane is little better, said Ehrmantrout, so he has been training with a company that protects against identity theft and does similar work.

Katie Wood visited WorkSource – an employment office – for the first time Tuesday. She has been a stay-at-home mother since 2005, but divorce is pushing her back into the work force.

Wood, 27, said she last worked at Columbia Lighting, which has moved out of the area. “That’s the only job I’ve ever had,” said Wood, who will be taking classes at Spokane Community College to improve her reading skills.

James Garry, who was also at WorkSource, said he left ProBond Coating Systems in January.

Garry said he has been called back for a second interview on a part-time apartment maintenance job in Cheney. “But there’s no way it’s going to support my family,” he said.

Garry said it has been two years since he was unemployed. “It wasn’t much to find a job at that point,” he said. “Nothing like now.”

State statistics released Tuesday show a statewide unemployment rate of 9.2 percent. Job losses – 20,000 in March, almost 100,000 in the past 12 months – swept through almost every category except education and health services, and government. The state rate is the highest since May 1984.

The national unemployment rate for March was 8.5 percent.

Mary Ayala, the department’s chief labor economist, said unemployment increases of 0.5 percent or more for each of the past three months were unprecedented back to 1976, when the current method for keeping statistics was adopted.

So was the 0.9 percent increase from February to March, said Greg Weeks, director of labor market economic analysis.

“We’ve not been in this kind of situation before,” he said.

Weeks said the highest unemployment rate recorded in Washington since 1976 was 12.2 percent in November 1982.

Every county east of the Cascades reported double-digit unemployment with the exception of Benton, Walla Walla, Garfield and Whitman. Ferry County, at 17.2 percent, had the highest rate in the state. Whitman, at 5.8 percent, had the lowest.

Tweedy said more than 1,000 people in wholesale and retail sales lost their jobs last month. Meanwhile, normal March employment increases of 3,000 to 4,000 in outside work did not occur because of the wet weather. He said he expects some of those positions to materialize as the weather warms and dries out.

The Spokane WorkSource office has 840 job openings listed, he noted.

“When people see this unemployment rate, they stop looking,” Tweedy said.