Payrolls add 11,000 in Washington state

More than 11,000 jobs were created in Washington state in January, the most in more than three years, according to data released Tuesday by the state Employment Security Department.

As a result, seasonally adjusted statewide unemployment fell to 9.1 percent in January from 9.3 percent in December.

Economists welcomed the encouraging jobs data, but other indicators, such as new weekly jobless claims and the number of people exhausting their unemployment benefits, suggest the state still is trying to find its footing in a slow recovery.

Thurston County and Pierce County data for January will be released next Tuesday. In December, Thurston’s jobless rate was 7.6 percent; the Pierce County rate was 9.2 percent.

Seven statewide industry sectors showed growth in January, led by professional and business services with 5,600 jobs, followed by education and health services with 4,500. Six statewide industry sectors fell in the period, including the much beleaguered construction industry, which shed 1,500 jobs, followed by manufacturing with 700 jobs lost, the data show.

“Construction continues to be the sector that suffered the most,” said Dave Wallace, chief economist for Employment Security.

New weekly jobless claims continue to fall but remain brisk, Employment Security spokesman Jamie Swift said. Filings stand at 11,000 a week, down 12 percent from this time last year and down 30 percent from two years ago. A thousand people a week are exhausting their benefits, spokeswoman Sheryl Hutchison said.

The state’s chief economist, Arun Raha, said January’s statewide job creation was positive news, although he cautioned that the statewide jobless figures are subject to change when the state releases its revised data.

Still, even the revised figures likely will be in line with job growth that Raha forecast in November. “I’d even go so far as to say that it’s solid growth,” he said.

Raha still has concerns about the slow state of the construction industry because it is the largest generator of revenue for the state, followed by car and truck sales. Nationally, there is a glimmer of hope for car sales because they rose 28 percent year over year in February, Raha said. As for higher gasoline prices affecting the state’s recovery, he’s not concerned about that just yet, but will be if prices hit $4 a gallon, a “psychological tipping point” for consumers, Raha said.

Meanwhile, Thurston County’s job market likely will show future improvement based on recent hiring events for the outdoors store REI, Home Depot stores throughout the county, a new Ross Dress For Less store in west Olympia – which will have its grand opening Saturday – and another job fair set for 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 23 at Westfield Capital mall. So far 13 businesses plan to attend, including Cabela’s in Lacey. Thurston County WorkSource helps to coordinate the hiring events. More than 670 job seekers attended the REI and Home Depot hiring events, according to WorkSource data.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403