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Originally published December 17, 2014 at 10:42 AM | Page modified December 18, 2014 at 11:24 AM

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Why does state's jobless rate keep rising? Brighter prospects

The Seattle-Bellevue-Everett area saw a slight decrease in the unemployment rate, to 4.7 percent from 4.8 percent in October.


Seattle Times business reporter

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The economy is recovering and Washington state’s unemployment rate has consistently been lower than the national rate since late 2012.

So why has Washington state’s jobless rate risen for the third month in a row, marking only the second time in two years that it’s been above the national unemployment rate?

Attribute it to more people entering the job market, now that prospects seem brighter.

In November, Washington’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 6.2 percent, according to preliminary figures released Wednesday by the state Employment Security Department.

That’s up from 6 percent in October, though down from 6.8 percent a year ago.

It’s also higher than the national November unemployment rate of 5.8 percent, the same rate as in October, and down from 7.2 percent a year earlier.

People who have been sitting on the sidelines waiting for job prospects to improve are now seeking jobs again, said Paul Turek, state labor economist.

“One tends to expect this sort of thing as conditions improve,” he said. “The big thing we’ll always trade off is the number of people entering versus jobs created.”

Things look good on the job-creation front. An average of about 7,200 jobs a month have been added this year, and, “If the current pace holds for next month, the year could shape up as the best for job creation since 2007,” Turek said.

That said, while the increase in jobs has been able to absorb some of the rising number of people looking for jobs, it isn’t “yet sufficient to employ all the ones who are looking,” he added.

The 3.5 million-strong state labor force — which includes people 16 or older who are working or looking for work — rose by 13,500 people from October to November, with half of those still looking for jobs.

Meanwhile, the state gained 6,800 jobs: The private sector added 10,200 jobs, while the public sector lost 3,400. That follows October’s revised estimated gain of 9,900 jobs.

A rising jobless rate due to more people entering the state’s work force as the economy improves is “quite normal,” said Patty Edwards, managing director of investments for U.S. Bank Wealth Management. “I was actually shocked we have not seen this phenomenon come in on the national level yet.”

It surprised Edwards that the state’s unemployment rate was higher than the national average. One factor, she said, could be that while the number of manufacturing jobs went up nationally, in Washington the number of jobs in the sector went down by 400.

The biggest job losses in the state were in government and in the leisure and hospitality sector, while construction, education and health services, and professional and business services logged the biggest gains.

Construction — the sector hit hardest during the recession — logged the biggest gains with 3,300 jobs added in November.

The increase in health and professional services jobs would tend to favor Seattle and other urban areas, Edwards said.

And, indeed, the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett area’s unemployment rate, at 4.7 percent, continued to be far lower than the state rate. The Seattle-area rate has essentially been flat for the past several months, declining slightly from 4.8 percent in October.

Among other figures in the report released Wednesday:

Overall, since November 2013, nearly 82,700 jobs were added statewide on a nonseasonally adjusted basis, including 72,600 in the private sector and 10,100 government jobs.

Over that time, the state’s labor force increased by 51,400 with the number of unemployed dropping by 17,700.

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or jtu@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @janettu.



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