Washington's jobless rate doesn't worsen, but still is high at 9.1 percent
Unemployment in Washington State didn't get any worse in April, the first time in more than a year that the monthly jobless rate hasn't risen.
Seattle Times business reporter
This is what passes for good news these days: Unemployment in Washington state didn't get any worse in April, the first time in more than a year the monthly jobless rate hasn't risen.
The statewide rate, adjusted for seasonal variations, was 9.1 percent last month, the same as March's revised figure, the state Employment Security Department reported Tuesday.
And while a separate report showed nonfarm payrolls shrank by 9,900 jobs in April, that was an improvement over the 19,900 and 20,100 jobs lost in February and March, respectively.
But none of that means Washington's recession has bottomed out or is close to doing so. "It's much too soon to assume the unemployment rate will start going down," said Mary Ayala, the state's chief labor economist.
Unemployment also flattened in Oregon, which reported Monday that the jobless rate there edged up to 12 percent from 11.9 percent.
Both states' rates were above the national rate of 8.9 percent.
Joblessness in metro Seattle dipped slightly, to 7.9 percent, from March's revised 8 percent figure.
As Ayala noted, the job market tends to be a lagging economic indicator. Companies continue hiring into a recession until they start feeling its effects directly, then they prune payrolls past the formal end of the downturn until they're convinced the recovery is real.
That means unemployment likely will keep rising for a while even after economists say the recession is over — bleak news for the 317,890 Washingtonians who reported being without work last month.
The nonfarm payroll report also should give pause to anyone looking for "green shoots" of economic growth: April was the seventh out of the past eight months in which payrolls shrank.
Since September, when the national recession hit Washington full force, the state has lost 118,900 payroll jobs — 4 percent of the nonfarm work force.
And more are on the chopping block: On Tuesday, drugmaker Amgen formally notified the state it would lay off 101 workers in Bothell in July, and Johnson Controls said it will let go 45 workers in Bellevue at the end of July.
One of the few sectors to add jobs in April was government. State government grew by 700 jobs in April, and local governments added 1,600, split equally between education and other functions.
But those numbers don't take into account recent and expected layoffs, including public-school teachers, that are coming because of state spending cuts made to help fill a $9 billion deficit through 2011.
Seattle Public Schools told 172 teachers, counselors and other employees last week they won't have jobs come the new school year in September. The city of Seattle plans to cut 30 jobs this summer; Washington State University has proposed laying off 206 workers across its four campuses statewide.
Construction shed 3,000 jobs in April, bringing the 12-month loss to 35,400. Aerospace shed 600 jobs, as Boeing and the rest of the industry trimmed payrolls in response to sagging airline demand. And software publishers cut 500 jobs statewide.
The financial-services sector, blamed by many for exacerbating the downturn, added a net 400 jobs last month, mainly in banking and insurance. However, finance is still down 8,200 jobs over the past 12 months.
Given the deep and wide job losses across the state, it's perhaps no surprise 40 percent of working Washingtonians are concerned about losing their positions, according to a survey last month by Harris/Decima for Everest College, a for-profit career-training school with six locations in the area.
When job growth does return, Washington may be in better shape than most states. A forecast by IHS Global Insight predicts employment growth in the state will average 1.48 percent annually between now and 2014 — tied with New Mexico for 16th best in the U.S.
The Associated Press contributed material to this report.
Drew DeSilver: 206-464-3145 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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