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Originally published Tuesday, March 17, 2009 at 12:06 PM

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Wash. unemployment rate jumps to 8.4 percent in February; higher than national rate

Washington's unemployment rate jumped to 8.4 percent in February, the highest rate the state has seen in more than two decades.

Associated Press Writer

OLYMPIA, Wash. —

Washington's unemployment rate jumped to 8.4 percent in February, the highest rate the state has seen in more than two decades.

More than 330,500 people are looking for work as the state and nation suffer from the recession, the state Employment Security Department said Tuesday.

The number of people unemployed and seeking work last month was more than 27,000 higher than in January, which had set a record as the highest in state history. That number doesn't translate to the highest unemployment rate though, because the state's population and labor force has grown since the record 12.2 percent jobless rate in November 1982.

February's rate increased from 7.8 percent in January, the biggest one-month jump since 1980, said Mary Ayala, the state's chief economist.

"This is a serious situation," she said.

It's also the second consecutive month that the state's rate has been higher than the national rate, currently at 8.1 percent.

The 8.4 percent rate is the highest the state has seen since June 1985. More than 28,000 jobs were lost last month, with the biggest cuts in professional and business services, transportation, trade and utilities, construction and manufacturing. Professional and business services took the brunt of the hit, losing 13,400 jobs.

"Most industries showed losses," Ayala said.

The one area with job growth was the financial-activities industry, which added 1,200 jobs.

Last year at this time, Washington's unemployment rate was 4.7 percent. The state had 97,100 fewer jobs last month than in February 2008, a 3.3 percent decrease. Nationally, employment declined by 3 percent from a year ago.

A record 90,331 new unemployment applications were filed in the state in December. More than 65,900 new applications were filed in February, down from more than 75,000 filed in January.

More than 168,000 people were collecting unemployment for the week ending March 7, a 186 percent increase from a year ago, the Employment Security Department said.

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Gov. Chris Gregoire said the steadily increasing unemployment rate underscores "the fundamental economic challenges we face."

"Behind the numbers are the men and women of Washington state who are struggling to meet their mortgages or rent payments, feed their families and pay their bills," Gregoire said in a prepared statement.

In January, Gregoire proposed a state stimulus plan she said would encourage consumer spending and create jobs. Gregoire wants to create thousands of jobs over the next two years by speeding up construction projects, especially at colleges and universities. One portion of her plan, to temporarily increase unemployment benefits, was signed into law last month.

The measure boosts the minimum weekly benefit amount and adds $45 a week for all jobless workers. That makes the minimum payment $200 per week, and the maximum $586. Under the federal stimulus plan, those benefits increase by $25 a week.

The temporary increases take effect May 3, and end with claims filed on Jan. 3, 2010. The federal increase took effect this week, so state claimants will receive a lump sum in May.

Gregoire said that in additional to the nearly $7 billion Washington state will receive under the federal stimulus plan, her proposal "will help to jump-start the state's economy by saving and creating jobs, extending unemployment benefits and helping people stay in their homes."

___

On the Net:

Full Report: http://www.workforceexplorer.com/admin/uploadedPublications/9559_ESR_Mar17_09.pdf

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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