Originally published December 14, 2011 at 10:49 AM | Page modified December 15, 2011 at 12:35 PM

Jobs engine revs up in state

The Seattle metro area's unemployment rate fell sharply last month to 8.2 percent while the labor force grew, reflecting strength in the local economy.

Seattle Times business reporter

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Earlier this year, Derek Gillette took a leap of faith into the murky waters of the local economy. The 27-year-old left a secure management job at a Seattle nonprofit to pursue a career closer to his heart: marketing.

Gillette spent six months applying for jobs — a tough time for him, his wife and their four children.

"There was definitely a lot of questioning everything that happened, because I was making a good salary (at the nonprofit) and I had a good relationship with management," he said.

But last month, Gillette was hired as a marketing copywriter for Kirkland-based online retailer BoxWave, becoming one of the more than 12,000 Washingtonians who found work in November.

November, in fact, was the best month for job growth in Washington in four years — a welcome development for the state's tens of thousands of recession-battered job seekers.

Washington employers added 12,100 payroll jobs last month and 44,600 over the past 12 months, according to preliminary estimates released Wednesday by the state Employment Security Department. The figures are seasonally adjusted to account for recurring fluctuations such as holiday hiring.

The state has added jobs in 14 of the past 15 months.

That growth, fueled entirely by the private sector, helped push Washington's unemployment rate down to 8.7 percent, its lowest level since February 2009.

Nearly four of every five new jobs in November — 9,600 in all — were created in the Seattle metro area, according to the new estimates.

One of those jobs belongs to Jeff Hora, hired last month as a community manager at the Bellevue headquarters of Taiwanese electronics giant HTC.

Hora said his position is new, involving the use of social media to keep HTC customers connected to each other and to the company.

Fittingly, social media played a key role in his getting it. He saw a posting on LinkedIn, did some searching and realized he was connected to a woman at HTC through a friend at the University of Washington's master's program in digital media.

"If you know somebody who knows somebody you can ask for an introduction to, at least you can get to sit down and talk with them," Hora said.

The drop in the statewide jobless rate wasn't only due to more people finding jobs.

Washington's labor force, defined as people either working or actively looking for work, slipped to 3,482,200 people, down 1.3 percent from a year earlier, presumably due to jobless workers giving up the hunt. Because of the way the jobless rate is calculated, a smaller labor force can make the rate fall as well.

The Seattle metro area's unemployment rate also fell sharply last month, to 8.2 percent from 8.5 percent in October. The area's labor force is growing, unlike its statewide counterpart — meaning the drop in the jobless rate in the metro area more likely reflects real improvement in the local economy.

Both the state and local drops mirror a steep decline in the U.S. unemployment rate last month, from 9 percent to 8.6 percent.

The magnitude of the state's one-month drop was unusually large: four-tenths of a percentage point. The last time that happened was 34 years ago, said Greg Weeks, director of the Employment Security Department's labor-market information office.

The jobless rate is derived from a survey of households — not, as is sometimes thought, by counting people receiving jobless benefits. The payroll-jobs data come from a separate survey of employers; most economists consider those numbers to be more reliable.

The private sector added a net 12,200 jobs in November, while governments cut a net 100.

The professional and business-services sector added 4,200 jobs, reversing much of October's decline. Particularly strong was the employment-services industry, which added 1,200 jobs after shedding 2,400 jobs in October.

Construction, the hardest-hit industry during the slump, was up 2,000 jobs last month, powered by a 1,200-job increase in heavy and civil engineering. Leisure and hospitality grew by 3,800 jobs, due largely to hiring by bars and restaurants.

Since the bottom of the employment cycle in February 2010, Washington has regained 69,800 jobs. However, the state lost 205,300 jobs between February 2008 and February 2010, meaning it still has far to go simply to get back to pre-recession levels.

The job news came as the Employment Security Department began warning people that two federal programs providing extended unemployment benefits will begin to shut down over the next month.

Currently, about 85,000 Washingtonians are claiming extended benefits, the department said. As of Saturday, some 68,000 workers had exhausted their unemployment benefits.

Congress has been locked in a partisan battle for weeks over how to continue the extended-benefit programs.

Sage Wilson, spokesman for the advocacy group Working Washington, said the positive November jobs report was no reason not to renew the programs.

"There's no denying that it's one month of good news for workers in Washington state, but it's easy to get carried away by how much good news it is," he said. "The size of the jobs deficit we're in is still staggering, and we still need our elected officials to do things to take care of people in need and invest in our community's future."

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.

Drew DeSilver: 206-464-3145 or

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