The state's jobless rate dropped to 5. 2 percent in March, the first time in seven years it has matched the national average. The rate is also...

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The state’s jobless rate dropped to 5.2 percent in March, the first time in seven years it has matched the national average. The rate is also the lowest since December 2000, just before the economy took a plunge.

Employers added 8,200 jobs last month, exceeding forecasts.

“It’s good news,” said Richard Kaglic, the state’s chief economist. “Basically what we’re looking at is a very healthy labor-market recovery.”

Washington state’s recovery outpaced the nation in March, which showed the weakest gain in eight months. U.S. employers added 110,000 jobs, half of what economists predicted. The U.S. jobless rate, drawn from a different survey, dropped to 5.2 percent, down from February’s 5.7 percent. Washington’s February unemployment rate was 5.5 percent.

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Washington’s building boom contributed to March’s growth. The state added 2,300 construction jobs, according to the state Employment Security Department. The figures are adjusted for seasonal fluctuations.

Professional and business services, a broad category covering things such as accounting and law firms, gained 1,300 jobs.

Employment services, which includes temp agencies, added another 400 positions in March. That sector is considered a harbinger of permanent jobs to come. It has gained 6,200 jobs since the recession ended in April 2003.

Other industries, however, continue to struggle.

“Some of the weakest growth in the state is taking place in information services,” Kaglic said, “and those are typically high-paying jobs.”

Telecommunication gained only 100 jobs last month, while software grew by 300. Manufacturing, the hardest hit during the recession, lost 100 jobs statewide.

By contrast, the Seattle area gained 300 manufacturing jobs in March, buoyed by hiring at Boeing. Overall, the metro area showed strong growth last month, adding 4,900 jobs.

Meanwhile, the number of unemployed workers in Washington fell by 49,000 from the same time last year to 184,800.

The percentage of people who run out of unemployment benefits before they find work has dropped, too, from nearly 39 percent two years ago to 29 percent. That puts Washington’s cutoff rate in the bottom five in the nation. Florida’s is the highest at 49 percent, while South Dakota’s 15 percent is the lowest.

Shirleen Holt: 206-464-8316 or sholt@seattletimes.com