The four-county Central Puget Sound region, which provides nearly two-thirds of all payroll jobs in the state, gained 8,800 jobs in July, more than offsetting the 5,500 lost in the rest of Washington.

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There’s not much to be said for spinning your wheels, except that at least you’re not going backward.

That, in short, is where the Washington economy finds itself these days, a condition underscored by Tuesday’s jobs report from the state Employment Security Department.

There were almost 2.97 million payroll jobs in July, just as there have been every month since January. Gains and declines have been minimal the past six months.

The problem is that while job seekers continue surging into the work force, the state economy isn’t generating nearly enough jobs for them. The result: Statewide unemployment last month jumped to a seasonally adjusted 5.7 percent, its highest level in 3 ½ years.

Still, given that U.S. payroll employment has actually shrunk every month this year, Washington’s economy looks good by comparison, acting chief labor economist David Wallace said.

“Our labor market isn’t as ideal as it was a year ago,” he said. “Things aren’t great here, but I think they’re still somewhat better than the nation as a whole.”

July’s jobless rate of 5.7 percent was up from a revised 5.4 percent in June; it was originally reported at 5.5 percent.

Washington now has the same jobless rate as the United States as a whole, after 13 straight months of outperforming the nation. What growth there is is concentrated in the four-county Puget Sound region — King, Snohomish, Pierce and Kitsap counties — which provides nearly two-thirds of all payroll jobs in the state. The region gained 8,800 jobs in July, more than offsetting the 5,500 lost in the rest of Washington.

After adjusting for seasonal variations in the labor force, the unemployment rate in King and Snohomish counties did rise to 4.3 percent last month from 3.9 percent in June. Though 1,800 more people reported they were working, a total 8,500 people entered the local labor force in July.

The jobless rate is determined by a survey asking people whether they’re employed or actively looking for work — not, as sometimes thought, by counting how many people receive unemployment benefits.

The nonfarm payroll numbers stem from a separate employer survey, which is why the two sets of data sometimes seem to go in different directions. Another sign of a state economy stuck in low gear: Initial claims for unemployment benefits have been more or less stable for the past several weeks, though they’re running nearly 30 percent above this time last year.

Statewide, local schools were the single biggest job gainers, adding 900 jobs. Aerospace accounted for 600 of the new jobs. Retailers, somewhat surprisingly, added 800 jobs; the biggest gains coming at general merchandisers, clothing stores and groceries.

The information sector gained 800 jobs last month, despite a 100-job drop among software publishers.

Residential construction, which has lost 6,100 jobs over the past year, held steady in July. Nonresidential construction gained 300 jobs last month, but heavy construction and civil engineering (the folks who work on roads, bridges and the like) lost 400. Fruit and vegetable processing fell by 800 jobs. Wood products lost 500 jobs, and financial services fell by 300 jobs, 200 of them in the real-estate and rental-leasing segment.

Wallace, who noted that the July data didn’t reflect several recent layoff announcements, including 1,000 at Weyerhaeuser’s Federal Way headquarters, said the worst employment news likely lies ahead.

“My instinct is that it probably will get worse before it gets better,” he said, “but I don’t know if it will get a lot worse.”

Drew DeSilver: 206-464-3145 or ddesilver@seattletimes.com