State jobless rate rises to 8.5 percent

OLYMPIA — Washington gained 5,000 jobs last month, but the unemployment rate still increased slightly to 8.5 percent, state officials announced Wednesday.

The numbers released by the Employment Security Department show that the July unemployment rate increased from the June rate of 8.3 percent, though the department stressed that both the jobs and rate figure are preliminary and subject to future revisions as more data come in.

The state’s unemployment rate is slightly higher than the national rate for July, which was 8.3 percent.

Officials said that the increase in the unemployment rate was due in part to a decline in the total workforce combined with a small increase in the number of unemployed people who are actively looking for work.

The July 2011 unemployment rate in Washington state was 9.3 percent. In the past year, the total labor force has grown by more than 39,000, and the number of unemployed workers looking for work has shrunk by about 24,500.

“When you compare where we are now to the same period a year ago, it’s apparent that the labor market is improving,” Joe Elling, chief labor economist for the Employment Security Department, said in a prepared statement.

Most of July’s job growth occurred in the “other industries” sector, which includes service-related businesses ranging from equipment repair to dry cleaning and pet care. That sector added 2,900 jobs last month.

The biggest losses were seen in the professional and business services sector, which saw a loss of 4,600 jobs.

An estimated 298,000 people were unemployed and looking for work in Washington state in July. Nearly 140,000 claimed unemployment benefits last month.

More than 4,200 unemployed workers ran out of unemployment benefits in July. Since extended benefits were activated in July 2008, more than 105,000 people have exhausted them.

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