Job losses in Washington accelerated in December, bringing 2008 to a close with unemployment at 7.1 percent, the highest rate in more than five years.
Information from the Employment Security Department shows unemployment in Spokane County rose to 7.6 percent, an increase of 1.2 percentage points over November and 2.5 percentage points over December 2007.
The national rate was 7.2 percent.
“In barely a year, we’ve gone from historically low unemployment to record numbers of people applying for unemployment benefits,” Employment Security Commissioner Karen Lee said in a news release.
New applications exceeded 90,000 in December, a surge that at times tested the limits of computers and phone lines.
Across Washington, almost 252,000 workers were looking for work, up 90,000 from December 2007. The record is 270,000, set in 1983.
An estimated 22,000 jobs disappeared last month, 54,600 last year.
Spokane County employment fell by almost 1,600, and the number of unemployed climbed more than 3,000 to 18,600. Employment fell to 226,630 from 227,890 a year ago.
Doug Tweedy, the department’s regional economist in Spokane, said the Spokane County unemployment rate was distorted by an influx of workers.
“People are coming here because the situation is even worse in other counties,” he said.
Unemployment rates in some Eastern Washington counties vaulted into double digits: Pend Oreille, 10.8 percent; Stevens, 11.1 percent; Ferry, 10.7 percent; Adams, 10.4 percent; Columbia, 11.4 percent; and Grant, 10.6 percent.
Rates have also climbed in North Idaho.
Two other factors contributed to the Spokane County increase, Tweedy said.
The first was snow, which curtailed retail and wholesale trade and forced the closure of some businesses when their roofs collapsed. The trade sector lost 600 jobs in December.
The second was the interruption in Boeing Co. operations, and the slow return to production after a two-month strike. Many of the 1,900 manufacturing jobs lost from December 2007 to December 2008 were in aerospace, Tweedy said, and the bulk of those workers should be back on the job soon as Boeing ramps up to normal production.
He said the business and professional services sector, mostly managerial and temporary positions, shed 1,000 jobs from December to December, but those losses were offset by the addition of 800 health care workers, 700 in education, and 500 in local government, much of that hiring by the Northern Quest Casino, which is owned by the Kalispel Tribe of Indians.
Tweedy noted the Spokane WorkSource office lists 900 job openings, which are accessible at www.go2worksource.com.
The record unemployment rate for Washington is 12.2 percent in November 1982.