Washington's economy showed further signs of weakening in April, but a state economist said today that there's not yet clear evidence the...

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Washington’s economy showed further signs of weakening in April, but a state economist said today that there’s not yet clear evidence the state is following the rest of the country into recession.

The state lost 1,800 nonfarm payroll jobs in April, the second month of declines after a revised 2,300-job drop in March, according to the Employment Security Department. Several sectors — from construction and wood products to financial services, retail and hospitality — were stung by the nationwide housing slump and consumers pinching their pocketbooks.

But Washington’s unemployment rate, which is derived separately from the nonfarm numbers, fell to 4.7 percent from a downward revised 4.8 percent in March. And the Seattle metro area’s jobless rate fell to 3.5 percent, the lowest in the state.

It was unclear, however, how much that lower unemployment rate reflected more people working and how much was due to people dropping out of the labor force entirely.

“We’re kind of experiencing a mixed picture,” said Dave Wallace, the state’s acting chief labor economist. “We don’t have enough supporting evidence to say we’re in a recession, (but) considering we’re getting a lot of mixed signals, I wouldn’t say we are.”

One of the brightest spots last month was aerospace, which added 500 jobs. State government added another 500 jobs, and the arts, entertainment and recreation sector gained 600.

But retailers cut 1,100 payroll positions in April, possibly reflecting that consumers — faced with high fuel and grocery prices — are cutting spending elsewhere. General merchandisers experienced the biggest job losses, cutting 800 jobs in the month.

Residential construction lost 800 jobs statewide last month and has cut 3,700 jobs over the past year; heavy and civil engineering dropped an additional 300. Those losses were offset somewhat by continued strength in nonresidential construction; that sector added 700 jobs in April and has gained 5,500 jobs since April 2007.

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