Spokane County’s unemployment rate has dropped to its lowest level in 3 1/2 years.
The 8.2 percent September rate reflects the return of workers to area schools, said regional labor economist Doug Tweedy. It’s the best showing since March 2009.
The county had a net gain of about 400 jobs in September compared with one year earlier. Spokane’s unemployment rate was 8.9 percent in August. It was 8.7 percent in September 2011.
Statewide, Washington’s September jobless rate was 7.7 percent, down from 8.5 percent in August of this year.
Grant Forsyth, chief economist at Avista, said 2012 is showing actual job growth in one category that’s been stagnant: the service sector, which covers everything from retail jobs to transportation and warehouse workers.
He’s slightly optimistic that the net gain in Spokane jobs so far for 2012 – about 3,100 jobs – will continue and increase in 2013.
“The leading indicators are pointing to a continued period of growth,” he said.
The 3,100 jobs added since last year is a fairly modest 1.5 percent growth rate, Forsyth noted. “For most of the year, Spokane has been slower to recover than Kootenai County has,” he said.
Tweedy said the hottest job sector in Spokane in the past year has been business and professional services, which has gained 700 jobs. That subsector includes accountants, legal workers and technicians working for bioscience companies.
The overall service sector in Spokane has gained 2,100 jobs in the last year, according to the state Employment Security Department.
That number is the seasonally adjusted count, Forsyth said.
Forsyth said that sector seems to be perking up, after several months of tepid growth.
“We’ve seen job losses in the public sector all year. So it’s good to see that one sector – services – growing again,” he said.
Looking over the past year, Tweedy said Spokane gained 300 more jobs in manufacturing and 100 in hospitals.
The 100 new hospital jobs reflect a “leveling off” in hospital employment following several months of fast job growth.