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Originally published August 15, 2012 at 10:43 AM | Page modified August 16, 2012 at 12:10 PM

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State's jobs picture leaves plenty of room for improvement

Washington's unemployment rate in July ticked up to 8.5 percent from 8.3 percent in June, although 5,000 net new jobs were added.

Seattle Times business reporter

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Guy Valencia's one-day-a-week job in the meat department at the Promenade Red Apple in the Central District is coming to an end. So the 55-year-old retired meat cutter is out looking for a full-time job, checking everywhere from Lowe's and Starbucks to the local grocery chain Metropolitan Market.

He took an early retirement from the full-time meat business last year, hoping to increase his income by combining his pension with a new job. But, so far, his only work has been the part-time gig at Promenade Red Apple.

Like Valencia's situation, the state's jobs picture is not dire, but there is certainly plenty of room for improvement.

The state Employment Security Department said Wednesday that the unemployment rate in Washington ticked up to 8.5 percent in July from 8.3 percent in June.

The Seattle area followed a similar upward trend, rising to 7.5 percent from 7.2 percent.

The retail sector, where Valencia is hunting, grew by 400 jobs from June to July. Education and manufacturing both saw significant job gains. Aerospace products and parts manufacturing added 1,100 new positions, while jobs in education were up 2,300. Job gains also occurred in what the Employment Security Department called a "hodgepodge of service-related businesses," such as pet care and equipment repair.

The total number of jobs in Washington state grew by 5,000 from June to July. That comes from a survey of businesses, separate from the household survey that determines the unemployment rate.

Joe Elling, Employment Security's chief labor economist, said these month-to-month movements should not be overstated. He emphasized that it's more telling to look at changes over a longer time horizon, like year-to-year.

"I don't want to extrapolate off of one month of data," he said. "The last few months of data have been positive and I would view these July numbers with caution."

The survey that determines the initial monthly unemployment rate has a margin of error of 0.8 percentage points, according to Employment Security.

Year-over-year, unemployment moved in the opposite direction of the monthly change — dropping statewide to 8.5 percent in July from 9.3 percent a year ago. Nationally, it decreased to 8.3 percent from 9.1 percent.

Valencia, with his street-level view of the job market, says that for someone with grocery retail skills, finding a job can depend on timing.

"I applied at Starbucks and they said somebody just got hired," he said.

On Tuesday, he visited a job fair organized by the local high-end grocery chain, Metropolitan Market. It's hiring about 40 new workers as it takes over the Magnolia Thriftway, while keeping some of that store's staff.

"The last time we did one of these, we had over 400 people," said Lisa Cole, vice president of human resources for Metropolitan Market, referring to a job fair in 2010.

This time a more modest number of job seekers visited the South Lake Union hotel where it was held. While Valencia was busy filling in the lines of his job application, about 15 other job seekers were perusing the company's career opportunities.

Although Washington's workforce shrank by 9,700 from June to July, year-over-year it increased by more than 39,000.

That means there are likely more people competing with Valencia for a job than one year ago. But with a modest cushion provided by his pension acquired from 30 years in the meat departments at Safeway, QFC and Albertson's, Valencia is not jumping at every opening he finds.

He's seen jobs available at grocery stores outside of Seattle, he said, but "I'm not willing to fight the traffic just yet."

Karl Baker: 206-464-2046 or kbaker2@seattletimes.com

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