After several months of unemployment below 5 percent, Seattle now faces a jobless rate that shows an economy not firing on all cylinders.
Joblessness in the Seattle area, which includes Bellevue and Everett, rose to 5.7 percent in October from 5.4 percent in September, the state Employment Security Department reported Wednesday.
The number of estimated workers who were unemployed last month jumped by 3.6 percent, while the local labor force shrank by 8,100 people, suggesting that many job seekers became discouraged and stopped looking.
October’s spike in joblessness, which continues a trend begun in August, suggests hiring has cooled considerably from spring and early summer.
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The Seattle unemployment rate fell to 4.7 percent in May and remained below 5 percent until August, when it shot up four-tenths of a percentage point to 5.2 percent.
Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional labor economist at the Employment Security Department, recently described the local jobs recovery as “very consistent,” if not exciting.
Wednesday, she called it “delicate.”
“Things have slowed down,” she said. “We’re not seeing the solid recovery that we had been seeing.”
Statewide, the unemployment rate climbed to 7.0 percent in October from 6.9 percent a month earlier as private-sector employers shed 8,300 jobs.
Washington’s construction sector lost 2,800 jobs, most likely because of a summer run-up in mortgage rates and subsequent slowdown in home building.
Aerospace manufacturing shrank by 1,000 jobs, led by a series of layoffs at Boeing.
“There’s reason to believe we’ve hit a soft patch,” state labor economist Paul Turek said in a call with reporters. “The labor market is not where most of us would like to see it.”
He said that while hiring was weaker than expected last month, there was no indication of a return to the mass layoffs that plagued the state during the 2008 recession.
He also discouraged what he called overly alarming readings of the numbers, noting that they’re subject to revision and adjusted for seasonal factors. Those adjustments can make things seem worse than they really are if hiring falls below expectations.
“It’s not a case for panic,” Turek said.
Despite the recent setback, state and local joblessness remained below the national average of 7.3 percent in October.
The Employment Security Department released September jobless rates Wednesday along with the October numbers because the federal government’s partial shutdown in October prevented it from compiling data for the prior month.
Locally, unemployment rose to 5.4 percent in September from 5.2 percent in August.
The state jobless rate declined a tenth of a percentage point in September to 6.9 percent.
On a seasonally adjusted basis, the Seattle area lost 800 jobs last month, compared with a gain of 2,400 jobs in September.
Without adjusting for seasonal variations, employers actually added 1,100 jobs in October, but that was 800 fewer than expected.
“What that tells me is things have just slowed down on us,” Vance-Sherman said.
In another troubling sign, Berry Plastics said Tuesday it will close a manufacturing plant in Kent by the end of May, affecting 118 employees.
Evansville, Ind.-based Berry said it will move the local production to plants elsewhere in the United States.
The Kent plant makes decorated and laminated films for a variety of markets, including personal care and food.
“The company will work diligently to help those employees affected with job loss to identify new opportunities in the Kent community and at other Berry locations,” it said in a statement.
Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @amyemartinez