Unemployment rate up

The South Sound economy shed 500 jobs in December, increasing Thurston County's jobless rate to 7.6 percent last month from a revised 7.2 percent in November, according to unemployment data released Wednesday by the state Employment Security Department.

Statewide, the seasonally adjusted jobless rate rose to 9.5 percent in December from a revised rate of 9 percent in November, according to the ESD.

Although the state’s jobless rate was higher last month, the total number of job losses has shown signs of improvement. Through the final six months of 2009, the state shed 23,700 jobs, down from 80,000 losses through the first six months of the year, the data show.

That wasn’t the case in Thurston County. From November to December last year, the county lost 500 jobs, an increase from the 400 jobs lost during the same period in 2008, said Jim Vleming, a regional economist with ESD. Those 500 jobs included 100 in retail and 300 in construction, he said. Losing 100 jobs in retail was disconcerting because employers typically hire during the holidays, and the struggling construction sector continues to be a drain on the local and statewide economy. Statewide, construction took “the sharpest hit in December, down about 1,900 jobs,” according to an ESD news release. With any luck, come spring, the better weather will kick-start the construction market, Vleming said. He added that how much of a turnaround there will be remains to be seen.

Mike Ritter, 42, of Olympia has witnessed the downturn in construction firsthand.

After a 17-year career renting and selling construction-related equipment to commercial and residential building sites, he lost his job in November and spent Wednesday afternoon at the Thurston County WorkSource office in Tumwater.

“A $100,000-a-year job went down the drain,” he said. Ritter, a single parent, said he is living off savings and plans to collect unemployment. He is hopeful about finding another job, although he expects to take a cut in pay.

“I’ve never seen it this bad,” he said about the state of the construction industry.

Jennifer Walker, 26, also at the WorkSource office Wednesday, hopes to have a job lined up by the time she graduates from The Evergreen State College in March, she said. She said she’s nervous about the job market because of the slower economy and said employers are more selective these days.

“Knowing the economy, I have to be open to whatever,” Walker said.

Her first taste of the South Sound job market was not good, she said. She tried to find a job during the summer, looking online, handing out résumés and visiting staffing agencies, but came up empty-handed, she said.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403