Thurston jobless rate hits 9%

Thurston County's unemployment rate rose to 9 percent in February, although the county added 800 jobs last month after shedding 2,200 in January, according to data released Tuesday by the state Employment Security Department.

The county’s jobless rate increased from a revised 8.6 percent rate in January but still was lower than the seasonally adjusted statewide jobless rate of 9.5 percent and the U.S. unemployment rate of 9.7 percent.

The county added more jobs in state and local government and the leisure and hospitality industries and shed jobs in retail trade and construction. Still, the net job growth in the January-to-February period didn’t lower the overall jobless rate, likely because of discouraged workers who have stopped looking for employment, regional economist Jim Vleming said. He said he expects the jobless rate to fall in the coming months, as better weather means more seasonal employment opportunities, although decisions related to the state budget still could weaken local job growth.

Some seasonal hiring already is under way. The Lowe’s home-improvement store on Martin Way in Olympia is looking to fill nine positions, and store representatives took part Tuesday in a hiring event organized by Thurston County WorkSource and Westfield Capital mall. The two organizations held a similar event last week for Affiliated Computer Services, a division of Xerox that operates a call center in Tumwater.

About 72 job seekers showed up to apply for the Lowe’s jobs, part of a hiring event that was scheduled to end at noon but stretched into the afternoon because of the turnout, human resource manager Charles Kennedy said. He said the average wage for the positions is $8.88 to $10.47 per hour, although it could be higher for people with more experience. An estimated 60 or so job seekers attended the call center hiring event last week.

Meanwhile, other job seekers could be found at Thurston County WorkSource’s main office in Tumwater. There, Dennis Laird, 44, of Olympia said he has been looking for work for seven months. During that time, he has filled out seven to 10 applications a week and has received only two phone calls, Laird said.

Gaia Thomas, 31, of Olympia, last had a temporary job with the state that ended Jan. 15. Since, she has been looking for work in public relations but acknowledged that it sometimes is a challenge to remain upbeat about her job search when so many others are looking for work.

“You can hear that people are scared, and that’s taxing,” Thomas said. “It’s hard to focus sometimes.”

Still, she praised the WorkSource resources, including her experience working with a job counselor. She said other job seekers should do the same.

“Don’t do it alone,” Thomas said. “Get help from people who know how to do it.”

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403