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Unemployment rate drops in both Washington, Idaho

But Evergreen State businesses report cutting 10,700 jobs

Kootenai County’s unemployment rate dropped half a percentage point in December to 9.8 percent – breaking a string of 19 months in which the jobless rate was stuck in double digits.

Idaho’s unemployment rate dipped to 8.4 percent in December, down a full percentage point from a year earlier, according to the Idaho Department of Labor. There were 698,000 Idahoans working in December, the most since March 2009.

Economists said job growth during the final three months of 2011 was the strongest since the economic expansion began to wane in 2007.

In Washington, meanwhile, conflicting data clouds the economic outlook and jobless rates.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday that unemployment dropped to 8.5 percent in December from 8.7 percent in November. Those numbers are based on household surveys.

At the same time, a survey of Washington businesses shows that employers shed 10,700 jobs from November to December.

Despite the confusion, officials with the Washington Employment Security Department report that the overall trend is gradual growth in jobs and falling unemployment.

Some details:

Idaho: The better December numbers in 27 of the state’s 44 counties mark the fifth straight month that Idaho’s overall unemployment rate has fallen.

Despite the better numbers, the state Department of Labor said there are roughly three unemployed workers for every open job posting – pointing to the difficulty some employers have expressed in finding workers with the right skills.

Washington: Leading the job growth is education and health services, with 2,200 more jobs in December; manufacturing, with 2,100 new jobs; 1,100 in aerospace; and 500 in warehousing, transportation and utilities.

The Employment Security Department says 4,300 jobs were lost in professional and business services; 3,500 in retail; 3,200 in leisure and hospitality; 1,900 in construction; and 1,200 in government.

The report showed that 297,430 people in Washington were looking for jobs in December. As of mid-January, 71,141 people had exhausted their unemployment benefits.

County and city data are set to be released next week.

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