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Wash. jobless rate up slightly; Spokane County steady

OLYMPIA — Washington’s unemployment rate inched up to 9.3 percent last month as the nation moves toward an expected slow economic recovery.

September’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate, reported Tuesday by the state Employment Security Department, rose from a revised August rate of 9 percent.

In Spokane County, the unemployment rate held steady at 8.4 percent, but only because workers left the county or stopped looking for a job.

County employment, at 217,320, decreased by 2,650 from August. Unemployment, at 19,860, fell by 350. Meanwhile, the labor force declined to 237,190, almost 3,000 fewer than in August, but down only slightly from September 2008, when 225,680 were employed in the county.

The unemployment rate in the county a year ago was 5 percent.

Statewide, nearly 313,000 people were unemployed and looking for work last month. The state’s pool of jobs has shrunk by 131,200 from a year earlier, a decrease of 4.4 percent.

Washington’s unemployment rate remains lower than the national figure, which was 9.8 percent in September. A year ago, the state’s unemployment rate was 5.5 percent.

In a separate report this week, chief state economist Arun Raha noted that Washington’s unemployment rate has remained relatively flat since reaching 9.1 percent in March, the end of the recession’s free-fall period.

Although many economists now believe the national recession has ended, experts also think the economic rebound will be drawn out over many months. Unemployment growth typically lags behind an economic recovery, meaning that overall jobless figures could stay high for some time.

State economic forecasters expect Washington’s jobless rate to peak at 9.8 percent in March or April 2010.

September payrolls were down by 16,000 non-agriculture jobs, following a loss of nearly 12,000 jobs in August. That marks the second straight month of employment declines in the state after job figures rose during July.

The goods-producing sector lost 5,000 jobs, or 1.2 percent, with losses split almost evenly between construction and manufacturing.

Construction lost about 2,300 jobs, with about 70 percent of those in nonresidential specialty trade contractors. That reverses a trend from earlier this year, when the residential side was taking higher job losses, Employment Security economist Dave Wallace said.

That caught Wallace’s attention because of speculation by economists that commercial real estate could be poised for a drop-off if the economy does not improve.

“There has been some discussion of whether or not the nonresidential side would end up maybe suffering a little bit more of the job losses from here forward,” he said.

Manufacturing jobs declined by 2,700 in September, the 10th straight month that manufacturing has not added jobs in Washington, Wallace said.

Public schools showed a steep decrease in jobs, but economists attributed most of that change to quirks in their statistical modeling. Overall, employment in K-12 schools has been relatively flat from May to September, Wallace said.

A few industries showed small monthly upticks in employment, led by retail, which added an estimated 300 jobs.

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