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Originally published March 1, 2011 at 10:26 AM | Page modified March 2, 2011 at 9:49 AM

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State's monthly job results good, but there's a catch

The state unemployment rate dropped to 9.1 percent in January, from 9.3 percent in December, with the strongest monthly jobs picture in more than three years, officials said Tuesday.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Mixed results

Seasonally adjusted jobs in January

Jobs

added

Professional/

business services

5,600

Education/

health services

4,500

Retail trade

1,500

Leisure/

hospitality

1,300

Financial

activities

1,200

Transportation/

utilities

800

Mining/

logging

100

Jobs

lost

Construction

1,500

Manufacturing

700

Information

600

Government

600

Other services

500

Wholesale trade

100
Source: State Employment Security Department

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The state unemployment rate dropped to 9.1 percent in January, from 9.3 percent in December, with the strongest monthly jobs picture in more than three years, officials said Tuesday.

Seasonally adjusted data show Washington added about 11,000 jobs in January, according to the Employment Security Department. The department said it was the largest monthly gain in the statistically adjusted jobs figures since November 2007, the month before the start of the nation's recession.

But there's a wrinkle: Those seasonally adjusted statistics — the most closely watched and widely reported job numbers — eliminate the predictable fluctuations occurring each year when stores hire for the holidays or schools let out for summer.

Without that adjustment, the state's economy actually lost 47,100 jobs from December to January, as the holiday season ended and employers in the retail, construction and hospitality industries eliminated jobs.

"In a very real sense, we lost jobs," said Dave Wallace, acting chief economist for Employment Security. But "we lost fewer jobs than we normally would at this time of year."

For many job seekers and their families, the positive news on the economy doesn't fit with their experience trying to land full-time work.

Wes Thompson, 79, of Bellevue, recalls being laid off from a bank in 1985 but managing to find a second career at Boeing before his severance ran out.

His son, Kevin, 52, hasn't been as lucky: Thompson said his son, a commercial loan officer, was laid off in spring 2009 and exhausted his unemployment benefits at the end of January. All that despite having gone to more than 25 interviews.

With job seekers facing such tough odds, "They're just getting discouraged," Thompson said.

The official unemployment rate does not count "discouraged" jobless workers, defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as those who have stopped looking for work in the past four weeks.

The bureau's broadest measure of joblessness includes those discouraged workers and part-timers who would prefer to have full-time work.

Under this broadest measure, which is a yearlong average, nearly one in every five workers in the state — 18.4 percent — was "underemployed" in 2010, compared with a national rate of 16.7 percent.

Washington tied with Arizona for seventh among the states on this "underemployment" measure. Washington's rate was 16.2 percent in 2009; 10.4 percent in 2008; and 8.8 percent in 2007.

The seasonally adjusted figures for January show that the labor force — people who would like to work — in Washington and the Seattle metropolitan area has contracted slightly.

"In future months, we may see people come back to the labor force," said Desiree Phair, an Employment Security regional labor economist who focuses on King County. "We're not sure how quickly that will happen."

According to one leading hiring survey, there are reasons for optimism — for certain occupations.

About 5 percent of employers nationally and in Washington state say they plan to add staff in the first three months of this year, said Josh Warborg, district president of Robert Half International, a leading specialized staffing and recruitment firm.

Employers are hiring network and Windows administrators and help-desk support professionals, he said. They also are planning to hire experienced accountants, financial analysts and business-system analysts.

The employment figures for January showed that more sectors are expanding than contracting.

Seven industries added jobs over the previous month on a seasonally adjusted basis: Professional and business services were up 5,600 jobs; education and health services, 4,500; retail trade, 1,500; leisure and hospitality, 1,300; financial activities, 1,200; transportation, warehousing and utilities, 800; and mining and logging, 100.

Industries that lost jobs in January were construction, down 1,500; manufacturing, 700; information, 600; government, 600; other services, 500; and wholesale trade, 100.

Since January 2009, the state's economy added 20,200 jobs, the department said.

An estimated 338,905 people in Washington were jobless and seeking work, and 245,225 received unemployment benefits from the state in December.

The state received about 11,000 new unemployment claims on a weekly basis in January. Jamie Swift, an Employment Security spokesman, said that rate was about 12 percent lower than a year ago and down 30 percent from two years ago.

About 1,000 people are exhausting their state and federal unemployment benefits each week, officials said. Eligible workers who are jobless can receive up to 99 weeks of benefits.

New rules will allow those who file for unemployment benefits from March 6 through Nov. 5 to receive an additional benefit for dependents, according to the department.

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or sbhatt@seattletimes.com

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