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Spokane unemployment hits 9.7 percent

Only 30 more Spokane County workers were jobless in February compared with January as unemployment inched up to 9.7 percent, after a jump of more than 2 percentage points from December to January.

The number employed in the county, 222,480, was down less than 2,000 from February 2008, representing a drop year-over-year of less than 1 percent.

For all of Washington, according to figures released this morning by the Employment Security Department, unemployment rose to 8.4 percent from 7.8 percent in January. The rate has not been so high since June 1985.

The month-to-month increase statewide is also the fastest since June 1980, said Mary Ayala, the department’s chief labor economist.

The state lost 28,200 jobs last month, Ayala said, bringing the total number unemployed to 330,572 – a record.

“The recession’s effects are now reflected throughout the entire economy,” Ayala said, noting jobs were lost in every category tracked by the state.

The unemployment rate a year ago in Washington was 4.7 percent. In Spokane County, the rate was 6.1 percent.

The national unemployment rate was 8.1 percent in February.

The state and national numbers are adjusted for seasonal variations in employment. Spokane County figures are not adjusted.

In the county, 23,910 are unemployed out of a total workforce of 246,400.

Regional Labor Economist Doug Tweedy said a steady increase in the number of people looking for work keeps lifting the unemployment rate even when job losses are as small as 30.

Tweedy said gains in health care and education employment are largely offsetting losses in retailing.

Some of the new jobseekers, Tweedy said, are seniors returning to work because of reductions in retirement income.

January and February are usually the worst months for local unemployment numbers, he said. Unemployment figures for March and April will better indicate where the economy might be headed the rest of the year, he said – a sentiment echoed by Ayala.

WorkSource in Spokane lists 940 job openings,Tweedy said.

Twenty-one counties in the state reported double-digit unemployment. Ferry County, at 14.8 percent, reported the highest rate. Whitman has the lowest at 5 percent.

The rate in Stevens County was 14.7 percent, in Pend Oreille County 13.7 percent, in Adams County 11.6 percent, and in Lincoln County 9.9 percent.

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