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Originally published December 18, 2013 at 10:50 AM | Page modified December 19, 2013 at 11:41 AM

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Seattle’s recovery ‘has reached a slow point,’ jobs data shows

Area’s unemployment rate improved in November but hiring remained tepid.

Seattle Times business reporter

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First the good news: Washington state’s unemployment rate fell two-tenths of a percentage point in November to 6.8 percent, reversing an October uptick led by the federal government shutdown.

Now the bad news: The decline in November joblessness was driven by a shrinking labor force and accompanied by a loss of 6,000 jobs statewide, according to data released Wednesday by the Employment Security Department.

“November typically is not a robust month for employment, so we weren’t expecting to see a big turnaround,” said state labor economist Paul Turkek. “The jobs data show there’s still some lingering weakness in the state’s labor market.”

While the unemployment rate fell to 6.8 percent from 7 percent in October, the decline reflected a shrinking labor force rather than a pickup in hiring. There were 4,700 fewer people working or actively looking for work in Washington compared with a month earlier, the report showed.

For the most part, the state economy has recovered from the recession faster than the nation as a whole, but that was not the case in November.

The U.S. economy added 203,000 jobs last month, continuing several months of solid gains. Joblessness nationwide fell three-tenths of a percentage point to 7 percent, the lowest level in five years.

The state’s government sector lost 4,600 jobs, while manufacturing shed 1,400 jobs and construction eliminated 1,100 jobs.

Economists say the declines in government and construction probably are only temporary, but continued layoffs at Boeing could drive down manufacturing employment through 2014.

“It was somewhat of a disappointing report,” said Alexander Miron, an economist at Moody’s Analytics. “Over the last couple of months, nonfarm employment has declined, and a lot of that is coming from manufacturing. It looks like employment in transportation-equipment manufacturing, which in Washington is Boeing, peaked in December 2012 and is down a little more than 2,000 jobs since then.”

Unemployment in the Seattle area, including Bellevue and Everett, improved to 5.6 percent in November from 5.7 percent in October -- a positive sign after four straight months of increases in local joblessness.

Still, hiring remained tepid. Without adjusting for seasonal variations, the Seattle-area economy grew by 1,900 jobs, well below expectations. On a seasonally-adjusted basis, the area lost 4,900 jobs, including 900 in manufacturing.

“The Seattle-area report is very similar to what we’re seeing at the state level,” said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional labor economist at the Employment Security Department. “I’m not going to go so far as to say our recovery has halted, but it has reached a slow point.”

Washington’s leisure and hospitality sector gained 1,400 jobs in November, thanks to earlier openings at ski areas. Other sectors that posted job gains are financial activities, up 600; information, up 400; and retail trade, up 300.

In all, Washington has created 34,600 jobs over the past year and recovered about 78 percent of the 205,000 jobs lost in the recession.

Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or On Twitter: @amyemartinez

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