State Jobless Rate Hits Record Low for March in Tight Labor Market

“Washington’s unemployment rate dropped sharply – by eight-tenths of a percentage point – in March, from 5.5 percent to 4.7 percent of the state’s workforce. The rate set was a record low for March, and one-half of a percent below last year’s rate, according to Commissioner Carver Gayton.A sizable drop between February and March is normal, as the economy picks up speed heading into spring, Gayton said. However, the current acceleration is taking place in a very tight labor market particularly for construction and services workers.The seasonally adjusted jobless rate dropped two-tenths of a percent over the month to 4.5 percent while the comparable national average held firm at 4.1 percent.Total nonfarm wage and salary employment rose by 38,300. Construction increased 2,700 as spring building began to get underway, with most of the additions in special trades, up 2,100 workers.Wholesale and retail trade added 4,400 workers, primarily due to the seasonal buildup in building materials and garden supplies, up 1,000, and eating and drinking places, up 2,200.Services employment shot up by 9,800 positions. There were widespread gains in business services, up 2,200, including both computer data processing and software, up 800, and temporary help services, up 1,000.Gains were also posted in amusement and recreation, up 1,200, and hotels and lodging places, up 800. Manufacturing payrolls statewide in March jumped by 15,500.The manufacturing increase reflected the return-to-work of some 15,000 striking Boeing engineers from the largest white-collar strike in U.S. history, said Dennis Fusco, chief economist for Employment Security. The 38-day strike ended March 20.Overall, aircraft and parts employment recorded a 600-worker loss during March, bringing the cumulative 20-month pullback to 24,900 jobs lost. The pace of the labor reduction in the industry has slowed, from about 1,600 a month, on average in 1999, and 1,100 in January and February.Gains were posted in machinery and electronics, up 400, food processing, up 300, and stone, clay and glass, up 200. Lumber and wood products was off 200 jobs. Census hiring increased government payrolls by 1,600.Over the year statewide, manufacturing employment was down 15,800, with aircraft and parts off by 16,700 jobs, and the rest of manufacturing up by 900 positions. Forest products, down 500, and food processing, down 200, were off slightly.Gains were found in machinery and electronics, up 500, petroleum and plastics, up 300, and fabricated metals, up 200.Construction added 7,500 workers and wholesale and retail trade grew by 14,600. Services leapt up 25,900 jobs, led by strong growth in business services, up 12,300 positions, health care, up 3,600, and engineering and management services, up 4,200.Total nonfarm wage and salary employment adjusted in collaboration with the Office of the Forecast Council was up 55,800, or 2.1 percent.The employment picture brightened for most of Washington’s counties, but a number continued to post unemployment rates, not seasonally adjusted, above 10 percent. Ferry County posted a rate of 16.9 percent, while Columbia County reported a rate of 14.2 percent unemployment. Klickitat County followed at 13.2 percent, Okanogan at 11.8, Stevens at 11.2, Pend Oreille and Adams counties both at 11.1 percent, Yakima at an even 11 percent, and Grant County at 10.9 percent unemployment.Whitman County, at the eastern border of the state, posted an enviable jobless rate of 1.9 percent. King County reported an even 3 percent rate, with Clark County at 3.8 percent, Snohomish at 3.9, Island at 4.1, San Juan at 4.2, Thurston County at 4.4 percent and Pierce County at 4.6 percent. Kitsap County reported an even 5 percent unemployment rate for March, with Mason County at 5.6 percent.”