Share story

With payrolls expanding in February and unemployment continuing to fall, it would appear that Washington’s jobs picture is finally brightening.

Except that for much of the state, it isn’t.

The jobs recovery that began in early 2010 has been overwhelmingly concentrated in the Greater Seattle area, analysis of the data released Tuesday by the state Employment Security Department shows.

While the statewide unemployment rate held at 7.5 percent for the third straight month, that apparent stability masked a stark disparity between metro Seattle and the rest of the state.

In King and Snohomish counties, which together make up the Seattle/Bellevue/Everett metro area, the seasonally adjusted jobless rate fell in February to 5.9 percent. That marked the first reading below 6 percent since November 2008.

But in the rest of the state, unemployment actually rose last month, to 8.7 percent from 8.5 percent in January.

That unbalanced recovery also is apparent in the payroll numbers. Those are derived from a survey of employers, while unemployment rates are calculated based on a separate household survey.

Since joblessness bottomed out in February 2010, Washington has added a net 143,000 payroll jobs. More than 100,000 of those were created in metro Seattle.

So the region that accounts for just over half of Washington’s payroll employment has seen 70 percent of the total gain.

“It’s been apparent that a lot of the growth in Washington state has been concentrated in King and Snohomish counties,” said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, regional labor economist for Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom counties.

Though the Great Recession hit much harder in metro Seattle than in the rest of the state, the region has recovered faster.

The area has regained 82.3 percent of the payroll jobs it lost during the slump. The rest of the state: just over half.

Much of the local strength has been in aerospace and other manufacturing, Vance-Sherman said. Over the past year, the area has added 5,900 manufacturing jobs, including 4,800 in aerospace.

Other strong local sectors have included retail (up 8,500 jobs in the past year), health care and social services (up 3,600), bars and restaurants (up 3,000), and computer- systems design (up 2,400).

The local construction industry gained 3,700 jobs over the past 12 months, despite cutting 700 jobs last month.

When the January report, released two weeks ago, indicated an unusually large one-month jump in payroll jobs of 24,100, state economists expected that number would be revised lower. Instead, Tuesday’s report revised it higher by 100 jobs.

But Employment Security spokeswoman Sheryl Hutchison said that because of changes in the way the jobs numbers are benchmarked, there may be larger revisions in coming months.

Over the past year, and after adjusting for seasonal variations, the state has added 70,000 payroll jobs, an average of more than 5,800 a month.

Overall, private-sector employment statewide rose by a net 3,600 jobs in February. Government added a net 400 jobs. All of the growth was in local government, which added a seasonally adjusted 1,000 jobs, more than offsetting cuts at the federal and state levels.

The department estimates that 259,000 Washingtonians are still unemployed and looking for work, including 139,900 who are receiving jobless benefits.

Last month, unemployment benefits ran out for 3,357 people, bringing the total to 132,165 since extended benefits were activated in July 2008.

Drew DeSilver: 206-464-3145 or