January unemployment in Spokane County soared to 9.6 percent, a peak not reached since the same month in 2002, when Washington and the United States were in the middle of the last recession.
The number of employed fell more than 5,000, to 222,490, from December, and about 2,500 from a year ago, according to statistics released Tuesday by the Department of Employment Security.
The county unemployment rate in December was 7.6 percent. In January 2008, the rate was 5.6 percent.
Regional Labor Economist Doug Tweedy said the extraordinary unemployment increase from December to January was produced by a combination of inmigration from outlying counties, normal seasonal jobs losses in construction and retail, plus the unseasonal loss of 2,600 other jobs in construction, retail and business services.
No adjusted numbers are available for Spokane.
For all of Washington, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate climbed to 7.8 percent from 7.1 percent. Unadjusted, the increase was 7.1 percent to 8.6 percent.
It was the first time in three years Washington’s unemployment rate was above the national average, which was 7.6 percent in January.
The number of unemployment in the state, 303,570, was the highest ever, and the unemployment rate is the highest since February 1987. The highest level since the state changed the way it keeps statistics in 1976 was 12.2 percent in November 1982.
The state’s chief labor economist, Mary Ayala, said Washington could see that level again before the economic stimulus package starts to take effect later this year.
Echoing remarks made Tuesday in Washington, D.C., by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernancke, she said the key to a turnaround is a revived financial sector.
Ayala said the state calculated the unemployment rate itself because U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers have been delayed by a computer overhaul. But state and federal figures usually track each other closely, she said.
Looking ahead, Tweedy noted unemployment stayed about 9 percent in February 2002, but fell to 7 percent in March as seasonal jobs were restored and the national economy started to recover.
Spokane’s WorkSource office has almost 1,000 job openings listed, he said.
“We do have jobs,” Tweedy said. “Employers are hiring.”