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Washington’s jobless number drops, but decline is misleading

Wed., Jan. 16, 2013, 10:40 a.m.

Washington’s unemployment rate dropped to 7.6 percent in December, the lowest since 2008.

But state Employment Security Department economists said that drop, from 7.7 percent in November, is due to people who’ve stopped looking for work, not gains in actual jobs.

“We’ve regained more than half of the jobs lost during the recession, but the number of people in the labor force has been declining,” said Joe Elling, chief labor economist for Employment Security.

“When the labor force shrinks, it artificially lowers the unemployment rate.”

Last month’s ESD surveys found a net drop of 7,900 jobs statewide.

Elling said the total number of employed and unemployed workers in Washington has fallen 60,000 since employment reached its low point in February 2010. Meanwhile, the total number of jobs has grown by about 115,000 in the past three years, out of a recession loss of about 205,000 jobs during the same period.

Industries with the most estimated job gains in December were construction, up 3,100; leisure and hospitality, up 1,400; education and health services, up 500; and wholesale trade, up 200.

Industries showing the most job losses last month included government, down 4,700 jobs; retail trade, down 4,100 jobs; professional and business services, down 1,900; other services, down 1,500; and manufacturing, down 900.

The county jobless numbers for December will be released next week.

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