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Wednesday, May 17, 2006 - Page updated at 02:19 PM

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Washington jobs still building up, but more slowly

Seattle Times business reporter

Washington added jobs last month, but at a slowing pace, while the increased number of people entering the labor market nudged up the unemployment rate.

The state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate edged up to 4.7 percent, matching the national rate, from 4.6 percent in March. A year ago, unemployment was running at 5.1 percent.

About 5,200 nonfarm payroll jobs were added in April, the smallest monthly increase since August.

So far this year, each month since February has seen fewer jobs added than the month before.

The Washington report came a day after Oregon reported a virtually flat job market. That state added just 100 net payroll jobs in April, and its unemployment rate stayed at 5.5 percent.

Greg Weeks, director of the state Employment Security Department's labor market and economic-analysis branch, said he still believed jobs in Washington are trending higher — particularly given the upward revision of first-quarter data, which added 4,500 jobs to previously reported gains.

Despite the slowing pace, job growth continues to run ahead of predictions.

The state's most recent official forecast, released in February, pegged nonfarm payroll growth for 2006 at just under 3 percent. Between April 2005 and last month, jobs grew by 3.4 percent.

"It's still a strong recovery," Weeks said. "We keep waiting to see the effects of gas prices and higher interest rates, but construction just keeps tooling along with job growth," Weeks said.

Driven by a sizzling housing market and a resurgence in commercial real estate, the construction industry added 1,100 jobs last month and has grown by 20,000 jobs, or 11.4 percent, over the past year.

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In addition, the real-estate sector of the financial-services industry added 800 jobs last month and 1,600 over the past year.

Professional and business services, a motley category that includes everything from architecture to waste disposal, added the most new jobs in April, 1,700.

Aerospace added 400 jobs last month.

It has grown by 6,700 jobs, or 10.3 percent, over the past year.

The strength of the real-estate and aerospace industries particularly benefited the Puget Sound region.

King and Snohomish counties, which together account for 42.6 percent of Washington's jobs, had a combined unemployment rate of 3.8 percent in April. The numbers are not seasonally adjusted.

As the current recovery has progressed, job growth has become more concentrated in the Puget Sound region.

Drew DeSilver: 206-464-3145 or ddesilver@seattletimes.com

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