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Area jobs fell in December

Unemployment rate rose slightly since November

Job losses in retail trade and food services pushed Spokane’s unemployment rate to 9 percent in December. That’s up from 7.9 percent in November and the highest since August.

Economists expected the jobless numbers to worsen in December. But they didn’t expect the number to hit 9 percent, said Doug Tweedy, regional economist with the Washington State Employment Security Department.

The unemployment rate remains one-tenth-of-one-percent lower than it was a year ago. And Tweedy pointed to a handful of positive developments, including the uptick in manufacturing output and hiring that has helped dampen the effect of job losses in government and education.

“Throughout 2011 the private sector has been strong,” he said. “The issue has been layoffs in the government sector.”

Government at the local, state and federal level is a dominant jobs driver in Spokane County, which serves as a services and regulatory hub for large region.

Tweedy said there will be more layoffs in the government sector in the next couple of months, including jobs eliminated at community colleges and universities.

December is a poor gauge of the employment scene, Tweedy said, because of the slowdown in construction and other outdoor activities.

He noted that even though the overall unemployment rate was down from last year, the improvement is largely due to people who had come to Spokane looking for work during the worst of the recession now leaving the county for job opportunities in their home communities. “As economies improve in North Idaho and communities in Eastern Washington, these folks tend to return home,” he said.

Tweedy estimated that some 7,000 people had moved into Spokane County looking for work during the economic crisis.

“Overall, I’m very positive about our economy in 2012,” he said. “Industry is creating hundreds of good-paying, secure and stable jobs. That bodes well.”