Washington's jobless rate climbed slightly in December, but year-end figures show unemployment remains at historic lows, state economists...

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OLYMPIA — Washington’s jobless rate climbed slightly in December, but year-end figures show unemployment remains at historic lows, state economists said today.

December’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 4.8 percent, down from 5 percent a year earlier and up slightly from November’s rate of 4.7 percent. At the same time, the national jobless rate increased to 5 percent.

The latest state figures continue a yearlong streak of low unemployment. Economists said 2007’s average jobless rate of 4.7 percent was the lowest since the state started keeping records in 1976. Economists typically say anything below 5 percent is textbook full-employment.

Gov. Christine Gregoire said the statistics show Washington is “making good decisions and doing right by businesses in this state.”

“It is heartening to go into a new year with such a strong economy,” Gregoire said in a prepared statement.

The state’s economy grew by 7,100 jobs last month, on top of the 3,100 jobs added in November. Washington employers added 77,200 jobs for the year, an annual growth rate of 2.7 percent. That compares with a national job-growth rate of 1 percent.

“It’s amazing that we saw such strong job growth in December, even though hundreds of people were put out of work by the storm disaster early in the month,” Employment Security Commissioner Karen Lee said.

The strongest employment sector in December was professional and business services, which added 3,100 jobs — the largest monthly increase in that sector since December 2000.

Leisure and hospitality businesses ranked second with 1,600 added jobs, and transportation, warehousing and utilities saw employment grow by 1,300. Manufacturers added 1,000 jobs, with gains concentrated in aerospace.

The weakest sectors in December were retail trade, which lost 1,700 jobs, and financial activities, which dropped 600 jobs. That contrasts with recent gains in the financial sector, and economists speculated December’s drop could be the beginning of a downward job trend amid continued mortgage market weakness.

Officials estimate that 166,000 Washingtonians are jobless and looking for work, out of a total labor force of about 3.47 million. Job openings are posted online at www.go2worksource.com.

The seasonally adjusted jobless rate for the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett metro area grew slightly to 3.9 percent last month.

Unemployment rates, not seasonally adjusted, in metropolitan areas around the state: Bellingham, 4.1 percent; Bremerton, 4.3; Longview, 6.9; Mount Vernon-Anacortes, 5.1; Olympia, 4.5; Spokane, 5.2; Tacoma, 4.9; Tri-Cities, 6.1; Wenatchee, 6; and Yakima, 7.9.

These labor market areas also were reported: Aberdeen, 9.8 percent; Centralia, 8.7; Ellensburg, 5.8; Moses Lake, 8.1; Oak Harbor, 5.1; Port Angeles, 7; Pullman, 3.6; Shelton, 6.2; and Walla Walla, 5.1.

Unemployment rates in these counties were: Adams, 8.7 percent; Asotin, 4.7; Benton, 5.3; Chelan, 5.9; Clark, 4.9; Columbia, 7.5; Douglas, 6.1; Ferry, 7.8; Franklin, 8.5; Garfield, 5.2; Jefferson, 4.7; King, 3.6; Klickitat, 7.6; Lincoln, 5.4; Okanogan, 8.2; Pacific, 10.3; Pend Oreille, 7.7; San Juan, 3.8; Skamania, 6.5; Snohomish, 4.2; Stevens, 7.7; and Wahkiakum, 7.8.