Washington’s east-west divide may help explain why the state unemployment rate has remained almost a full point above the national jobless rate even as the Seattle area’s job picture improves.
Washington’s east-west divide may help explain why the state unemployment rate has stayed so steady over much of the past year, stubbornly remaining almost a full point above the national jobless rate even as the Seattle area’s job picture improves.
The statewide jobless rate of 5.8 percent in July was the same as in the previous seven months, and up slightly from 5.6 percent in July 2015, according to preliminary, seasonally adjusted figures released Wednesday by the state Employment Security Department.
The national unemployment rate in July, meanwhile, was 4.9 percent, just where it has mostly hovered since last fall.
The Seattle/Bellevue/Everett area’s unemployment rate dipped to 4.4 percent in July, down from 4.6 percent in June and above 5 percent in January.
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“We have a two-sided economy, a divided economy, taking place,” Paul Turek, state labor economist, said during a conference call Wednesday.
In the urban areas west of the mountains, a lot of jobs are being created, particularly in the tech sector. That can help drive down the unemployment rate.
But it also draws more job seekers to the area. And a number of those jobs require high-level technical skills that many job seekers don’t have.
Meanwhile, the more rural areas east of the mountains, where agriculture is affected by the slowing export market, aren’t creating as many jobs as in the west.
“Put that together with moderate or slower job creation and we’re just not getting enough to lower the unemployment rate,” Turek said. “If we had a state that only consisted of areas west of the mountains, we’d see the unemployment rate be a whole lot lower. It’d be like the Seattle area.”
Overall, the state gained an estimated 2,600 jobs in July, with the government, education and health services, and leisure and hospitality sectors gaining the most.
The manufacturing, construction, and professional and business-services sectors lost the most jobs in the past month.
Over the past year, the state added 100,000 jobs total.
The state’s civilian labor force — meaning those ages 16 and older who are working or actively looking for work — remained virtually the same as in June at about 3.62 million people.
Over the year, the state’s labor force grew by 86,200, and the Seattle/Bellevue/Everett area’s labor force grew by 23,100.