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Originally published April 18, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 24, 2007 at 5:35 PM

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Corrected version

Unemployment in Washington falls to record low

Unemployment in Washington fell last month to its lowest level since the technology boom of the late 1990s, as the state's continued strong...

Seattle Times business reporter

Unemployment in Washington fell last month to its lowest level since the technology boom of the late 1990s, as the state's continued strong economy drew thousands more people into the work force.

The state's jobless rate was 4.6 percent in March, matching the rate posted in November 1999.

Both mark the low point for unemployment since the current series of statistics began in 1976.

Evelina Tainer, the state's chief labor economist, cautioned that the drop of two-tenths of a percentage point from February "isn't really considered statistically significant."

But the fact that unemployment is at a historic low means "this is the best time to be looking for work," she said.

Unemployment in the Seattle metropolitan area, defined as King and Snohomish counties, held steady at 4.4 percent in March.

The state's rate was slightly above the 4.4 percent posted for the nation as a whole in March, but well below the 5.2 percent Oregon reported Monday.

A year ago, unemployment in Washington stood at 4.8 percent.

But while record numbers of Washingtonians have been pulled into the active work force, the pace of job creation has slackened the past few months.

Nonfarm payroll jobs, which are measured separately from unemployment, grew 2.2 percent between March 2006 and March 2007 when adjusted for seasonal variations. That's the smallest year-over-year rate of increase since September 2004, and a significant falloff from the nearly 3 percent growth rates typical in 2005 and 2006.

The official state forecast is for 2.5 percent job growth this year, versus 2.9 percent in 2006.

Other observers aren't quite so sanguine.

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Bill Conerly, an independent economist and consultant in suburban Portland, has trimmed his 2007 job-growth forecast for Washington to 2.1 percent, from 2.2 percent in February and 2.3 percent in December.

Still, Conerly noted, 2.1 percent would be faster than both the national rate and the state's population growth.

"Washington is still growing rapidly, but not quite at the breakneck pace it had been," he said.

"I think we can grow at that pace for a couple of years."

Job growth was concentrated strongly in the central Puget Sound area.

Metro Seattle gained 2,900 payroll jobs in March, virtually all the net increase for the entire state.

Pierce County gained 500 jobs and Thurston County 100.

Aside from a 400-job gain in Spokane, the rest of the state lost jobs.

Job growth in March was dispersed among the different business sectors, with none especially dominant.

Aerospace added 600 jobs in the month, as did the retail sector.

Local government grew by 900 jobs, while bars and restaurants added 400.

Employment services, a category that includes temporary-help agencies and employee-leasing firms, grew by 800 jobs, possibly a consequence of marginal workers using those businesses as re-entry points into the active work force.

The construction sector gained 200 jobs, but all were in heavy and civil engineering rather than the building of homes and office buildings.

Unofficial figures from the state Employment Security Department show nonresidential construction holding up somewhat better than residential — not unexpected, given the housing-market slowdown.

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

Information in this article, originally published April 18, 2007, was later corrected. A previous version of this story contained a chart showing the state's unemployment rate over the years which incorrectly pointed to a spot in 1990 to show the record low November 1999 rate of 4.6%. The chart was later removed.

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