State sheds 8,000 more jobs

The Washington work force shed 8,000 jobs in August, bringing the total of jobs lost over the past 12 months to 126,000 positions, a 4.2 percent drop from 2008.

The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose 0.3 percent to 9.2 percent in August, compared to a revised rate of 8.9 percent in July, according to the State Employment Security Department.

The best news was that the news wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

“It’s too early to say the recession is over,” said David Wallace, acting chief economist at ESD, in a conference call Tuesday.

“We hope to see some sustained job growth before we can make any comment on that,” he said.

One good sign, he said, was an increase in construction jobs statewide. After 18 straight months without growth, the ESD reported construction payrolls statewide increased by 200 jobs.

Over the month, according to ESD data, three sectors likewise gained positions. Government added 1,800 jobs; leisure and hospitality added 800; and transportation, warehousing and utilities gained 700.

The largest declines in key sectors came from professional and business services, down 2,500 jobs; retail trade, down 2,400; and education and health services, down by 1,800.

The highest unemployment rate recorded in the state hit 12.2 percent in November 1982. The last time the rate was as high as it was in August – 9.2 percent – was in May 1984.

Jim Vleming, ESD regional labor economist for Thurston, Lewis, Mason, Pacific and Grays Harbor counties, said Tuesday that the latest data suggest “it’s pretty much business as usual.”

In Thurston County, he notes from the August data that “it’s the doldrums we’re seeing all over the state.”

The unemployment rate in Thurston County, like the state, rose 0.3 percent to 7.3 percent in August, still well above the 5.1 percent recorded in August 2008. (Thurston County’s rate is not adjusted for seasonal changes to employment such as holiday hiring.)

With Thurston County losing 800 positions in construction and 1,800 jobs in government year-to-year, Vleming said. “It might be another long, cold winter.”

“I guess the only bright spot, leisure and hospitality, was up 100 jobs for the month,’ he said. “One hundred is better than going down.”

Looking ahead, he said, “I think we’re going to see some local implications with the budget cuts. The cities are coming up with budget plans, the county, and statewide. We’re going to see more of a hit as we go. That may have a trickle-down to other sectors.” “It’s easy,” he said, “to be pessimistic.”

The unemployment rate in Pierce County mirrored the state number, rising 0.3 percent to 9.2 percent in August compared to 8.9 percent in July. (Pierce County’s rate is not adjusted for seasonal changes to employment such as holiday hiring.)

A year ago, the unemployment rate in Pierce County was 5.9 percent.

“We’re still on a relatively tough road in terms of hiring conditions,” said Paul Turek, Pierce County labor market economist for ESD.

C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535