December Unemployment Figures for State Lowest Since 1966 – Labor Markets Stay Tight

“Washington’s unemployment rate rose three-tenths of a percentage point to 4.3 percent in December, according to Employment Security Commissioner Carver Gayton. Meanwhile, based on preliminary data, the rate averaged 4.6 percent for 1999.Gayton said that both the December unemployment rate as well as the 1999 annual average was the lowest since 1966.“Labor markets remain tight,” Gayton said. “On a seasonally adjusted basis, the statewide jobless rate inched up two tenths of a percentage point to 4.2 percent – just above the 29-year low for the nation of 4.1 percent.”Total nonfarm wage and salary employment dropped 7,500 workers during December – 3,000 less than the 10,500 in the same month one year ago.Manufacturing payrolls were lower by 3,700, led by seasonal cutbacks in food processing, down 2,400. Lumber and wood products dropped only 200 positions, while stone, clay and glass manufacturing dropped 300. The job count in aircraft and parts fell by 900 during the month – down 19,300 over the year. As a share of the total state economy, aircraft and parts employment has scaled back from 5.3 percent in 1990 to 3.4 percent at this point.Construction was reduced by 3,900, with most of the drop split between heavy construction, down 1,700, and special trades, down 1,600.Wholesale and retail trade leapt 5,900, with Christmas hiring in general merchandising up 2,200, and apparel and accessories up 700. Eating and drinking places also added 800 positions.Services employment inched up 700, with gains in amusement and recreation, up 1,500, engineering and management services, up 400, and health care, up 900. These gains were countered by losses in temporary help services, down 1,500, and private education, down 500. Public schools pulled back 2,600 during the month.Over the year, manufacturing payrolls were off 13,600 statewide, driven by losses in forest products, down 1,300, and aircraft and parts, down 19,300. There were gains in industrial machinery and electronics, up 1,700.Construction added 9,400 workers during 1999, and wholesale and retail trade expanded by 19,800. Services employment jumped 25,000, led by strong growth in business services, up 9,700, health care, up 3,200, and engineering and management services, up 3,100.Total nonfarm wage and salary employment adjusted in collaboration with the Office of the Forecast Council was up 40,100, or 1.5 percent over the previous year.The total state labor force for December 1999 was at 3,075,300, with 2,943,500 employed and 131,800 unemployed.The Pierce County unemployment rate for the month was an even 4.0 percent, with Thurston County close behind at a 4.1 percent unemployment rate, not seasonally adjusted. Mason County posted a 5.1 percent rate, while Kitsap turned in a 4.4 percent rate.Statewide, Whitman County posted an enviable 1.7- percent rate, with Asotin County following at 2.3 percent. King County remained strong with a 2.7 percent rate, while Clark County in southwest Washington posted a rate of 3.3 percent, followed by Snohomish and San Juan counties, both at 3.7 percent unemployment.Counties not faring as well during the winter months included Columbia County, posting a rate of an even 14.0 percent, and Adams County with a rate of 13.3 percent. Other counties posting rates of 10 percent unemployment or higher included Franklin, with 11.2 percent, Okanogan and Yakima counties, both with rates of 10.3 percent, closely followed by Klickitat and Grant counties at 10.2 percent.Overall Washington counties fared better than one year ago, with unemployment rates rising to a high of 17.3 percent in hard-hit Columbia County.Pierce CountyLocally, in Pierce County the nonagricultural wage and salary workforce reached 243,600, up 500 from November, and 3,100 from one year before.The goods producing sector declined a total of 1,400 jobs from December 1998, with manufacturing leading the decline, sharing the drop equally between durable and nondurable products, both losing 600 positions, with specialty trade contractors dropping 200 jobs.The services producing sector continued to grow, up 800 positions from the month before, and an impressive 4,500 jobs over December 1998. Transportation, communications and public utilities all rose over 1998 figures, while remaining level from the month before.Trade grew 800 positions over November’s numbers, and was up 300 over the year previous. While retail trade seasonally grew 600 positions over November’s level, it was stagnant compared to one year ago, showing no growth. Food stores, down 300 from December 1998, and eating and drinking places, down 200 from the same period, were loss leaders in the trade sector.The wholesale sector was up 200 positions from November’s level and up 300 for the year.Finance, insurance, and real estate services were up 700 for the year, 100 over November.The services sector, though down 200 from November, was up 2,100 for the year. Lodging establishments were stagnant in hiring, showing no growth for the year, and business services declined 1,000 over year-end 1998 figures.Health services were also down 400, while private education services grew 900 and the other services category ballooned by 2,600.Government hiring grew by 700 during the year, with the federal government and United States Postal Service each adding 200 positions over the month before, for a total yearly gain of the same amount. Department of Defense hiring remained static, while state hiring for the year increased by 300. Local government added a total of 200 positions, with a gain of 300 positions in public educational services offset by a loss for the year of 100 other local government jobs.The long-running Kaiser Aluminum lockout, well over a year old, continued to impact about 200 Pierce County workers.”