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State jobless rate dips slightly in February

Washington’s unemployment rate edged down to 9.1 percent in February as employers added a net 800 jobs.

The rate for January, when more than 17,000 found employment, was 9.2 percent.

The struggling construction industry added 3,900 jobs during February, best among the 13 sectors tracked by the Washington Employment Security Department.

Department acting Chief Economist Dave Wallace said most construction hiring was in the specialty trades, the employers hardest hit by the recession.

The government work force grew by 1,700, mostly in the military and higher education. Leisure and hospitality employment climbed 1,600.

Retail and wholesale trade fell the most, losing 1,500 and 1,400 jobs respectively, followed by financial activities and professional and business services, both off 1,300.

Although only four of 13 sectors added jobs in February, Wallace said, “For the most part, we are seeing good signs.”

Washington has gained 31,100 private-sector jobs since February 2010, while shedding 3,200 government jobs.

About 342,000 were unemployed, 235,000 of whom were collecting unemployment benefits.

 Wallace said Washington may have turned the corner on employment, but he characterized the change in direction as “wide and slow.”

A county-by-county breakdown of February employment will be released next week.

Bert Caldwell

Homebuilder outlook rises for first time in months

WASHINGTON – Homebuilders’ pessimistic outlook improved slightly this month, but it remains dim amid falling home prices and a weak pace of construction.

The National Association of Home Builders said Tuesday that its index of industry sentiment for March improved slightly to 17. That’s the first gain in five months, after four straight readings of 16. Any reading below 50 indicates negative sentiment about the market. The index hasn’t been above that level since April 2006.

Last year was the worst in more than a decade for sales of previously owned homes and the worst for new-home sales in nearly a half-century.

Fewer homes mean fewer jobs. Each new home built creates, on average, the equivalent of three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in taxes, according to the builders’ trade group.

Associated Press

Top credit card issuers say late payments are down

NEW YORK – Major credit card companies said their customers’ payment habits continued to improve in February.

The top six card issuers on Tuesday all reported lower rates of payments late by a month or more, a positive sign for the industry as it continues to recover from huge write-offs in 2009 and 2010.

Bank of America, Chase, Citibank, American Express, Capital One and Discover all submitted regulatory filings detailing lower rates of delinquent payments than in January, continuing a trend that began early last year.

The rates are expected to continue to drop, reflecting both a strong effort by consumers to make their payments on time and the removal of chronic late payers who have seen their credit cut off from the pool of card users.

Associated Press