Eight-year low in jobless rate may mean companies will have a harder time filling jobs this holiday-shopping season.
An eight-year low in the Seattle-area jobless rate announced Wednesday may mean local companies will face a tough time finding help for this holiday-shopping season.
With the holidays approaching, companies around the country are preparing to boost payrolls. For example, Target announced this week it will be hiring 70,000 seasonal workers and UPS said it will bring on more than 90,000 workers from November to January.
Seattle economist Dick Conway said the shrinking pool of unemployed people in Washington state and the Seattle area may make it harder for employers to hire, but he also said more people look for a job during the holidays.
“There are a lot of people who are sitting on the sidelines who are not counted as unemployed people,” he said. “People jump in and take jobs at the holiday … to supplement their income.”
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Joblessness in the Seattle area, which includes Bellevue and Everett, dropped to 3.6 percent in August — a level not seen since September 2007.
Washington state’s unemployment rate, meanwhile, stayed at 5.3 percent for the third month in a row, according to preliminary seasonally adjusted figures released Wednesday by the state Employment Security Department. That rate is down from 6.2 percent in August 2014.
The national jobless rate was 5.1 percent last month, down from 5.3 percent in July and 6.1 percent in August 2014.
Overall, the state last month had 3.53 million people in the labor force, meaning they were either employed, or unemployed but actively looking for work.
This was a drop from the previous month, which state labor economist Paul Turek said resulted in the unemployment rate holding steady at 5.3 percent in August.
Jenifer Lambert, vice president of sales and marketing at TERRA Staffing Group, said the shrinking pool of unemployed workers is causing employers to rethink what they are offering potential seasonal hires.
“The recruiting pool is limited to those who are unemployed, and 3.6 percent is a pretty small pool to choose from,” Lambert said.
TERRA places close to 10,000 people per year in jobs around Puget Sound, from retail to administrative, to general labor.
Lambert said companies are now having to think more broadly about the background of potential employees and be more flexible about the training required and the skills and experience seasonal workers may bring to the position.
These are struggles that were already becoming apparent because of the minimum-wage structure changes in the Seattle area that have now been exacerbated with the lower unemployment rate, Lambert said.
It’s noteworthy that the labor force has shrunk for three months in a row, Turek said on a conference call with reporters, but “I’m not expecting that to continue.”
“Washington state’s economy is strong enough and large enough,” he said, “we should continue to expand and see job growth, which I think will reverse that short-term trend that we are in right now.”
He said the trend could just be the labor force responding to the summer, noting that a change in people’s habits or the weather can throw things off. August’s estimated preliminary hiring numbers are often on the low side.
Statewide, the number of nonfarm jobs increased by 1,600 from July to August.
The professional and business services sector had the largest increase, with 3,500 new jobs, followed by wholesale trade, up 800 jobs, and information and government each up 700 jobs.
On the downside, financial activities shrank by 2,500 jobs during the month, construction shed 2,000 jobs and leisure and hospitality lost 500 jobs.
Meanwhile, the Seattle-area labor market grew by 5,300 people to 1.58 million, which Turek said resulted in August’s low unemployment rate.
However, he said, it is “difficult to say whether the unemployment rate in the Seattle area can go much lower.”