Despite weak job growth, Washington state’s unemployment rate fell three-tenths of a percentage point in January to 6.4 percent, its largest single monthly drop in four years, data released Wednesday show.
The state’s economy added only 3,800 jobs during the month, down from a seasonally adjusted gain of 6,700 jobs in December.
Still, the state Employment Security Department took a more positive, long-term view. Without adjusting for seasonal variations, the labor market grew by 61,400 jobs statewide over the past year, the department said.
The report, which reflects an annual statistical update based on newly revised data, also indicates the state did not lose as many jobs during the recession as previously thought and now has gained back just as many, plus 4,000.
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“The new data indicate that our economy is stronger, and has been stronger, than our monthly surveys have shown,” Paul Turek, an Employment Security labor economist, said in a statement.
Previous data showed the state lost about 205,000 jobs between February 2008 and February 2010, but economists now believe the number was closer to 189,000. The annual “benchmarking” brings Washington’s post-recession gain to nearly 193,000 jobs as of January.
By that measure, the state has more than recouped its job losses during the recession. Yet that figure does not take into account growth in the working-age population.
Despite recent declines in the statewide labor force, Washington still has about 3,500 more people in its pool of available workers than before the recession, offsetting the recovery’s net gain of 4,000 jobs.
“You can look at it as, ‘We’ve regained all the jobs we lost.’ Or you can look at it as, ‘Gosh, we’re right where we were in 2008,’ ” a more pessimistic take, said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional labor economist for Employment Security. “We had a huge setback, and it’s been a very hard recovery.”
Statewide, industries with the most growth in January were construction, up 2,500 jobs; followed closely by private education and health services, up 2,300; and government, up 1,100.
Other industries with solid monthly job growth were transportation, warehousing and utilities; information; leisure and hospitality; and manufacturing.
Turek attributed the decline in the jobless rate to strong hiring, even if the state’s net job gain was smaller than in December.
That’s a change from last year, when the main cause of declining joblessness was a shrinking labor force, as many discouraged job seekers stopped looking, the department said.
Seattle’s mixed picture
The Seattle metro area, which includes Bellevue and Everett, had an unemployment rate of 5.2 percent in January, down from 5.3 percent a month earlier.
Joblessness nationwide was 6.6 percent in January, down from 6.7 percent in December.
Seattle’s jobless rate fell despite a loss of 3,600 jobs during the month.
The biggest loss locally was in manufacturing, which cut 2,600 jobs, including 1,500 in the aerospace sector. The region’s service economy shed 2,100 jobs, led by financial activities, down 1,100; and government, down 1,800.
On the upside, professional and business services added 1,200 jobs in January, while construction generated 1,100 new jobs.
Vance-Sherman said some of Seattle’s monthly net job loss is due to seasonal fluctuations in the economy.
“We expect most industries in the area to decline in January,” she said. “It’s just that some of them declined more than expected.”
On a year-over-year, nonseasonally adjusted basis, the Seattle area is up 39,200 jobs, or 2.7 percent, she said.
Also, it has gained back all the 115,100 jobs it lost during the recession, plus 25,700. “Overall, the trend has been one of growth,” she said.
As of late February, more than 195,000 people statewide had exhausted unemployment benefits since mid-2008, and at least 118,000 of them still were unemployed, according to Gov. Jay Inslee’s office.
Inslee said Wednesday he has directed Employment Security to spend $4 million in federal money on new efforts to help long-term unemployed workers find jobs.
The department will ask a dozen local workforce-development councils across Washington to submit proposals for new strategies to return the long-term unemployed to work, with contract awards announced by April 24.
Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @amyemartinez