Employers in Washington state added 6,700 new jobs in March — the fourth straight month of solid hiring — suggesting that the economic recovery is gaining traction, data released Wednesday show.
“The short-term trend looks good,” said Paul Turek, a labor economist for the state Employment Security Department. “It’s another small indication that the labor market is getting better. We’re getting job creation, but it’s not gangbusters job creation.”
March’s gain of 6,700 jobs builds on a pickup in hiring that began in December and continued through winter after a rough three months of little or no job growth last fall.
Hiring was especially strong among temporary staffing agencies, computer-systems design firms and online retailers.
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Although more people found jobs last month, an increase in the pool of available workers kept the state’s unemployment rate at 6.3 percent, unchanged from February’s revised figure.
The labor force, which includes those who are working or looking for work, expanded by about 9,500 people, a sign that a stronger economy is enticing discouraged job seekers back into the fold.
“We’ve been looking at the economy as being two steps forward, one step back. We’re now at the point where it’s three steps forward, one step back,” said Patty Edwards, managing director of investments for U.S. Bank’s wealth-management office in Seattle. “It’s not off to the races, but it’s better than it’s been.”
Still, March’s hiring surge was well below the 8,500 new jobs a month that economists believe are needed to return Washington to pre-recession joblessness in the mid-4 percent range over the next three years.
Counting February’s upwardly revised increase of 5,800 jobs — more than twice the earlier estimate of 2,500 — employers statewide have added an average of 6,250 jobs monthly since December. By comparison, Washington’s economy created, on average, 6,300 jobs a month from 2005 through 2007, Turek said.
As usual, the state’s job creation was concentrated in the Seattle metro area: Locally, employers added 8,000 new jobs in March, and the labor force grew by 6,500 people.
“Employment gains are slowly improving the confidence of workers who have been sitting out and now are moving back into the labor force,” Turek said. “It’s another data point moving us in the right direction.”
The Seattle area, which includes Bellevue and Everett, had an unemployment rate of 5.2 percent last month, up from 5.1 percent in February.
Joblessness nationwide was 6.7 percent in March, the same as a month earlier.
“Overall, it feels like we’re gaining momentum,” said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, regional labor economist for Employment Security. “We’re continuing to see what we’ve seen over the past several months in Seattle, which is an increasing labor force and increasing employment numbers. I like seeing that consistency.”
In terms of local post-recessionary job growth, last month’s gain of 8,000 is second only to an increase of 8,500 this past December. A year ago, the Seattle-area economy added only 2,000 jobs.
Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @amyemartinez