Falling unemployment not the whole story for county

Statewide and Thurston County unemployment rates fell in July from June, according to jobless data released Tuesday by the state Employment Security Department.

Seasonally adjusted statewide unemployment fell below 9 percent to 8.9 percent last month for the first time since April 2009. Thurston County’s jobless rate also was lower as it fell to 7.3 percent in July from 7.4 percent in June, the data show.

Although unemployment rates were lower throughout the state and in the county last month, so, too, was job growth. Overall, the state shed 2,300 jobs, largely because of federal census work that came to an end. In the county, hiring in construction and the retail sector was flat while the leisure and hospitality sector added 200 jobs in the June to July period. Construction still is off 800 jobs since last July, regional economist Jim Vleming said.

“Treading water seems to be a popular phrase,” he said about the state of the local economy. “Treading water applies in this situation because there still are so many questions regarding the state budget.”

Issues surrounding the state budget loom large in Thurston County because state government is considered the county’s largest employer.

Vleming acknowledged that more than 100 jobs created by Forever 21 at Westfield Capital mall helps the local economy, but “retail therapy” is not enough to sustain it because of the uncertain state of consumer confidence, he said. Forever 21, which sells clothes and accessories for young men and women, opened last week at the mall in the former space left vacant by Mervyn’s four years ago.

Meanwhile, the search for a new job continues for many at the Thurston County WorkSource office in Tumwater. On Tuesday, Danette Soto, 47, was busy looking for work after recently moving to Rochester from Texas to take care of her grandmother. The job market doesn’t seem as strong here as it was in Texas and employers don’t seem to pay as well, Soto said. She previously earned $14 an hour working for a wireless phone company in Texas, in addition to the bonuses she could make, sometimes close to $2,000 a month, Soto said.

“It’s been a hard transition,” she said.

Michelle Foster, 36, of Olympia, is looking to get back into the job market after working as a job coach for the disabled. She’s hopeful about finding a job; the real test will be whether she gets calls back from those jobs she knows she’s qualified for, Foster said.

“If I don’t, that’s my test,” she said. “That means there are a lot of people out there (looking).”

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403