State jobless rate falls to 8.1 percent

SEATTLE — Washington state’s unemployment rate fell in April to 8.1 percent, despite a loss of 300 jobs last month, officials said Wednesday.

Dave Wallace, senior economist at the state Employment Security Department said state officials are confounded by the mixed messages they are getting from the two different surveys used to calculate unemployment figures and job losses.

The survey used to calculate the unemployment rate showed an improvement from March’s 8.3 percent unemployment rate. But the survey used to calculate job numbers showed a loss in employment.

“It’s always confounding when the surveys produce contradictory results,” Wallace said. “Based on experience over the past several months, the job numbers are likely to be revised.”

Revisions concerning December numbers, for example, cut job losses from 10,700 to just 100. January numbers were revised from a 13,200 job gain in January 2012 to a gain of 14,700. February’s preliminary gain of 4,200 jobs was later revised down to a gain of 1,700; and March’s estimated gain of 3,300 jobs has now been revised to a gain of 4,900 jobs.

Wallace emphasized the importance of not placing too much emphasis on a single month of data.

Washington has seen job growth in 19 of the last 20 months, with the exception of December. April’s estimated unemployment rate is the lowest since January 2009, when Washington unemployment was 7.7 percent.

Wallace also said it was important to not focus on just one number to get an idea of the state’s job picture. The monthly unemployment rate does not reflect the number of people who are working part-time while they continue to look for full-time work, for example.

Washington has a large number of people who fit this category, Wallace said. The numbers also don’t show how many are underemployed, such as someone with a doctorate degree working in fast food.

The federal government takes an annual look at these numbers in a broader, more nuanced way, including discouraged workers who have stopped looking for work and those working part-time involuntarily.

From the second quarter of 2011 through the first quarter of 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found an average of 17.6 percent of Washington’s workforce were unemployed, involuntary part-timers, discouraged workers or others who don’t fit in the regular monthly unemployment figures.

The national average for this broader measure was 15.6 percent through the first quarter of 2012.

Manufacturing jobs were the brightest spot on the April report, with an estimated 2,900 jobs added, and business services added an estimated 600 jobs. Losing the most jobs in April were government, which lost an estimated 2,300 jobs; transportation, warehousing and utilities, which lost an estimate 1,300; education and health services, down 900; and leisure and hospitality, which lost 500 jobs.

An estimated 285,800 people were out of work in April, down from a peak of more than 365,000 in February 2010.

As of May 5, 89,815 workers in Washington had exhausted their unemployment benefits.

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