Spokane County’s unemployment rate fell by almost 2 percentage points in April as employers added 3,900 workers, many of them in construction.
The Washington Employment Security Department Tuesday also reported the first improvement in the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate — to 9.2 percent, from 9.5 percent — since March 2007. Unadjusted, the rate fell to 8.7 percent from 10 percent.
The unadjusted rate for Spokane County was 8.8 percent, down from 10.7 percent in March and only marginally higher than the 8.7 percent rate a year ago.
Total employment in the county increased to 218,200 from 214,300, and unemployment fell to 20,960 from 25,590 in March. The work force shrank by 700 to 239,180.
Contractors have added 800 jobs the past two months, taking the county total to 11,500 — 100 more than a year ago.
Associated General Contractors Executive Director Wayne Brokaw said the hiring reflected the start of the construction season. The comparisons with 2009 look good because the weather last year delayed work somewhat.
Arum Kone, labor economist for most of Eastern Washington, said the construction rebound in Spokane was stronger than elsewhere around the state. The other major bright spot, hiring by general merchandise stores, reaffirmed Spokane’s place as the region’s trade hub, he said.
He noted the rural counties around Spokane were starting to regain their economic footing after a dismal 2009, with most reporting improvements in the unemployment rate of at least 2 percentage points.
State employers added 5,800 jobs, using numbers adjusted for the season — a statistical method to help smooth out fluctuations — and more than 53,000 unadjusted. The unemployment rate for the United States was 9.9 percent seasonally adjusted.
Visiting the Port of Tacoma with Gov. Chris Gregoire, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner hailed the dip in unemployment numbers as an early sign “the American economy is getting stronger.”
The job growth is being driven by the private sector, an increase in American savings and more demand for U.S. products from foreign consumers, Geithner said. “This is the start of a Main Street recovery. … We have a long way to go.”
Gregoire also said job growth indicated “our economy is starting to turn around and is headed in the right direction.”
But Dave Wallace, the state Employment Security Department’s acting chief economist, cautioned that the job market has been volatile, and the picture could change as discouraged workers start looking for jobs again.
“Those who have been out of work the longest are having the hardest time finding work,” he said, adding that workers younger than 25 have had an especially challenging time.
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