State unemployment rate drops to 7.6%

SEATTLE — Washington state’s unemployment rate dropped to 7.6 percent last month, the second month in a row with a state jobless rate below 8 percent and the lowest rate in four years.

The state’s Employment Security Department said Wednesday the seasonally adjusted rate for November was 7.7 percent. That was the first month since January 2009 when unemployment in Washington was below 8 percent.

Employment Security Department officials caution, however, that the recent drops in unemployment can be tied, in part, to unemployed job seekers who have stopped looking for work.

The unemployment rate represents the percentage of the labor force that’s unemployed and actively looking for work. People who quit looking for work are not counted.

The total number of employed people and those actively looking for work has declined by 60,000 since Washington employment peaked in February 2010. The state has regained more than half the jobs lost during the recession, but the labor force has been declining.

State officials saw a steady decline in workforce participation in 2012, even though the state’s potential working population has increased, said Joe Elling, the state’s chief labor economist.

Employment officials also connect some of the change in the numbers to the recently updated system for making seasonal adjustments. That might explain why in December, a month that usually sees an increase in retail jobs, those numbers dropped this year.

Fewer employers responded to the state’s employment survey in December and that could also have led to an inaccurate estimate, Elling said.

“It will take time to determine the accuracy of these numbers,” he said. “I think we have to treat some of these numbers with a great deal of caution.”

Some bright spot of the report were an increase in construction employment of more than 3,000 jobs and leisure and hospitality reporting 1,400 more jobs.

State officials will take another look at figures for all of 2012 before issuing their next report in early March, Elling said.

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