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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Jobs gains in March too small to make impact

The Spokesman-Review

The March employment statistics for Washington underscore again how feebly the economic recovery has progressed. No wonder so many lose heart.

Employers in the state created positions for 3,300 more workers last month. That was the 18th gain registered in the last 19 months and lifted the total jobs added since the low point of the recession to 94,800. But the new jobs were not enough to move the needle on the unemployment rate, which remained at 8.3 percent after an upward revision for February. Because the revision did not significantly affect three-month average unemployment rate, the improvement during the 2012 first quarter shortened the period an unemployed worker can collect unemployment benefits to 73 weeks from 99 weeks.

By mid-June, more than 100,000 workers will have exhausted their benefits. If hiring continues at the March rate, as many workers will have found jobs as lost benefits. If anything says “sideways,” that’s it.

Also, if the rate of hiring does not improve on March’s pace, it will take seven years for all the 289,400 seasonally adjusted people now looking for work in Washington to find it.

But, as is the case for the national jobless numbers, the hope is March was an exception in a pattern of stronger growth. In January, more than 13,000 jobs were added in Washington.

Meanwhile, state workers by the hundreds are cleaning out their desks.

By the end of this budget biennium, total employment by state agencies will have fallen to 104,841, the fewest since the 2001-’03 biennium. The Department of Health and Human Services has already shrunk by almost 20 percent, and 440 more employees are on their way out. So are Liquor Control Board workers departing before the state sells off its remaining liquor operations. The board may have to close some of its 166 locations because it can no longer staff them.

State governments did add jobs in March, mostly in education. Remember, too, that tribal casinos are considered government employers.

The DSHS departures will lift the University of Washington to No. 1 among state of Washington employers, with just under 20,000 on the payroll. Washington State University, by comparison, employs a little less than 5,900.

The biggest drag on the recovery, construction, was among the sectors in which hiring slowed in March; just 500 additional jobs. Although the housing market is somewhat healthier, there is still a lot of inventory of existing homes to soak up before starts on new structures can rebound. Public projects continue to sustain a significant share of construction employment.

Although the Legislature made progress getting the state’s house in order in its just-ended special session, improvement in the national outlook will probably be limited until November. It’s going to be a tough half-year for the faint of heart.

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