Area unemployment down to 3.5%, despite aerospace cuts

EVERETT — The statewide unemployment rate dropped to a nine-year low of 4.9 percent in February.

That’s down from 5.1 percent in January and 5.6 percent in February 2016.

In spite of continued cuts in the aerospace industry, the area that includes Everett, Seattle and Bellevue continued to grow. Its unemployment rate was 3.5 percent in February, dipping from 3.7 percent in January and 4.4 percent one year ago.

“Aerospace cuts are kind of acting as a bit of a drag on what’s been fairly solid momentum propelling the rest of the labor market,” said Paul Turek, a labor economist with the state Employment Security Department.

“It’s not that the industry is struggling, it’s more of a reorganizing of the industry,” Turek said.

Revised estimates for Snohomish County in January showed an unemployment rate of 4.2 percent, the second lowest in the state behind King County’s 3.8 percent. There were 17,532 people receiving unemployment benefits in the county in January.

The state’s monthly employment report doesn’t break out the February figures by county.

The February employment report showed the state gained 6,100 jobs in February on a seasonally adjusted basis. That adjustment reflects the normal ebb and flow of seasonal hiring, such as the annual gain in retail jobs around the holiday season.

Most of those gains were concentrated in a few sectors.

According to the report, the construction sector gained 2,000 jobs in February, as did the government sector. The professional and business services industry, which includes some high-tech businesses, gained 1,300 jobs.

The manufacturing category, which includes aerospace manufacturing, lost 900 jobs statewide over the past month, while the aerospace product and parts manufacturing category lost 1,000 jobs.

Those figures don’t include Boeing’s announcement late last week that it would cut another 170 jobs at least at its Puget Sound-area operations.

The manufacturing sector has been struggling nationally because of an overall lack of export demand, Turek said.

“The oil industry and things of that nature that require equipment and other materials have sort of depressed that momentarily,” he said.

Other sectors losing jobs were transportation, warehousing and utilities and the retail industry.

In total, the statewide labor force rose to about 3.7 million in February, an increase of 2,500 people from the previous month and up 81,200 over the past year. The Everett-Seattle-Bellevue region grew by 43,400 workers in the past year.

The labor force count is larger than the total nonfarm employment figure of about 3.3 million because it includes people who are unemployed but continuing to look for work.

The total labor force also factors population growth into the figure as well as economic factors, Turek said.

The statewide unemployment rate of 4.9 percent, the lowest since March 2008, accounts for about 77,350 people receiving unemployment benefits in February.

All figures in the report are preliminary estimates that get revised as more data becomes available. For example, the initial estimate of a loss of 7,200 jobs statewide in January has been revised downward to just 3,100 jobs lost that month.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

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