The jobless rate for July rose in the Seattle metro area and across Washington state as more people sought jobs.

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Unemployment in Washington state last month jumped to its highest level in 3 1/2 years, as job seekers surged into an economy that is having trouble generating enough new jobs for them.

The state jobless rate was 5.7 percent in July, up from a revised 5.4 percent in June (it was originally reported at 5.5 percent), according to figures released today. Washington now has the same jobless rate as the United States as a whole, after 13 straight months of outperforming the nation.

The state’s economy gained 3,300 payroll jobs in July, after losing a downward-revised 1,800 jobs in June. July was the fifth straight month of little to no change in the nonfarm payroll figures, suggesting that Washington’s jobs engine is stuck in first gear.

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

“Things aren’t great here, but I think they’re still somewhat better than the nation as a whole,” he said.

In the Seattle metro area, the unemployment rate rose to 4.3 percent last month from 3.9 percent. About 8,500 people reported entering the labor force in July, but only 1,800 of them found work right away.

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

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 last month. Wood products lost 500 jobs (a figure that doesn’t include the layoffs announced by Weyerhaeuser last week), and financial services fell by 300 jobs.

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