State jobless rate lowest in 5 years

SEATTLE — Washington state’s unemployment rate is at its lowest point in more than five years, but the latest figures involve a number of people who have given up looking for work, officials said Thursday.

The state Employment Security Department estimated that the jobless rate fell to 6.6 percent in December, down from 6.8 in November. The last time the numbers were that low was in November 2008, when the state’s unemployment rate was at 6.5 percent.

Paul Turek, an Employment Security labor economist, cautioned that the shrinking unemployment rate was largely due to people who stopped looking for work and dropped out of the labor force. But he said the numbers appeared stronger in December than the previous two months, with an estimated 4,800 jobs added between November and December.

“It’s tempered enthusiasm,” Turek said of his feelings on the report.

Two different surveys are used to calculate unemployment figures and job losses and gains. The unemployment rate represents the percentage of the labor force that is unemployed and actively looking for work, so people who have stopped looking for work are not counted. The job gains and losses estimates are based on a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey of businesses.

The state added a total of about 47,000 jobs for the year, according to the Employment Security Department.

The job gains in December largely occurred in the professional and business services category along with the private education and health services sector. Job losses were seen in government and manufacturing.

Big gains were seen in professional and business services, where 2,900 new jobs were added, largely in temporary agencies. Jobs in private education and health services increased by 2,000. Other services, a catch-all category including auto body shops and nail salons, added 1,400 jobs. Wholesale trade increased by 1,300; construction by 800; leisure and hospitality, 600; and mining and logging, 100.

The greatest job losses were reported in government, which shed 1,500 jobs, and manufacturing, which lost 1,400. All of the lost government jobs were state agencies and public colleges. In manufacturing, job losses were predominantly in food processing.

Washington’s unemployment rate rose to as high as 10.2 percent at the start of 2010 but has been falling steadily ever since. The state says some 227,900 people are still looking for work, with a little more than half of those claiming unemployment benefits.

The national unemployment rate was 6.7 percent in December.

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