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Originally published February 29, 2012 at 10:36 AM | Page modified March 1, 2012 at 11:20 AM

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State's jobless rate falls to 8.3%

The state's unemployment rate slipped to 8.3 percent in January and the economy added 13,200 jobs, continuing a string of employment gains, according to preliminary data.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The state's unemployment rate dropped to 8.3 percent in January, as the economy added 13,200 jobs, officials said Wednesday.

Those preliminary estimates suggest the economy is improving, according to the state Employment Security Department.

Washington has recorded job gains for four consecutive months and in 16 of the past 17 months, the latest data show.

"It's about as positive as I've seen in a long time," said Dave Wallace, the department's acting chief economist.

Other economic indicators also suggest a recovery is under way.

Under the broadest measure of joblessness, 17.8 percent of the civilian workforce in Washington was underemployed at the end of 2011, down from a peak of 18.7 percent at the end of June. That measure includes job seekers who have stopped looking and part-timers who want full-time work, as well as those counted as unemployed.

In another positive sign, initial claims for unemployment in February are at levels not seen since February 2008, when employment last peaked in Washington. Wednesday's jobs report indicated the state was 107,800 jobs below that peak.

But since February 2010, the low point of employment after the crisis, the state has regained about 98,000 jobs. Employment in January was up 2.2 percent over the prior year.

"We are seeing real and consistent signs of recovery," Gov. Chris Gregoire said in a statement Wednesday. "That is good news ... but we've still got to get thousands of Washingtonians back to work."

In the Seattle area, the unemployment rate fell to 7.5 percent, down from 7.7 percent the previous month.

Washington's rate matched the national unemployment rate in January.

The hiring and unemployment estimates, prepared by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, are updated regularly after the agency collects more data, sometimes resulting in dramatic revisions.

In Wednesday's report, the state said December's loss of 10,700 jobs was revised to a gain of 100 jobs, and the December unemployment rate of 8.5 percent was revised upward to 8.6 percent.

And the bureau now estimates Washington gained about 53,500 jobs in 2011, not the 26,600 jobs previously reported.

The state estimates that 291,400 Washington residents were jobless and looking for work in January. As of Feb. 25, there were 74,616 workers who had exhausted all their unemployment benefits.

Some jobless workers say employers won't even consider unemployed applicants for vacancies. Last year, President Obama proposed barring employers from discriminating against job applicants because they are unemployed.

On Wednesday, Gregoire called on employers to "make it a priority" to hire workers laid off in the recession.

"There are thousands of people with great work history who would make loyal, hardworking employees," she said.

Most sectors expanded hiring in January. Professional and business services gained 5,500 jobs; retail, 2,700 jobs; education and health services, 2,300; wholesale trade, 1,100; leisure and hospitality, 1,100; construction, 900; information, 500; financial activities, 500; transportation, warehousing and utilities, 100; and aerospace manufacturing, 400.

Government cut 1,100 jobs; mining and logging, 200; and other services, 200.

Over the past 12 months, almost all sectors grew, led by manufacturing. Aerospace contributed 9,200 jobs of the 22,800 jobs gained in manufacturing. Education and health services grew by 10,800 jobs; retail, 8,900; leisure and hospitality, 8,700; other services, 4,800; wholesale trade, 4,400; transportation, warehousing and utilities, 4,400; financial activities, 1,900; construction, 700; and information, 300.

Meanwhile, government shed 4,500 jobs over the year.

Professional and business services cut 500 jobs.

The state's February jobs report is due out March 21.

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

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