State unemployment rate goes down to 6.1 percent in February

Washington’s preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for February fell four-tenths of one percentage point to 6.1 percent, Employment Security Commissioner Sylvia Mundy announced Tuesday.

The nation’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.6 percent. Washington’s non-adjusted unemployment rate fell four-tenths of a percentage point to 6.8 percent in February.

“February’s unemployment rate drop confirms the downward trend begun early in the fall of 2003,” Mundy said. “Currently, our labor force, employment, and unemployment estimates are all moving in the right direction.”

Mundy cautioned, however, against too much optimism and noted that unemployment rate calculations are subject to revision.

“There are still many long-term unemployed and rates of job creation are not yet high enough to put the tens of thousands of jobless residents back to work,” she noted.

Washington’s nonagricultural wage and salary employment showed a net increase of 12,000 jobs over the month. Most net job changes were associated with normal seasonal activity. Manufacturing continued slow job loss, down 1,000 jobs over the month and retail trade had more post-holiday layoffs, down 5,100 jobs.

Information was up (+700) with gains in software publishing and wireless telecommunications. Financial activities was also up (+500) due to strength in the real estate sector, while professional and business services was bolstered by an increase of 2,600 jobs concentrated in accounting firms as the tax season heats up. Education and health services were up 3,300 with seasonal hiring in education outweighing some layoffs at hospitals.

Government employment was also up (+6,200) with gains in state and local education and other local government as poll workers were brought on to work in the February elections.

Over the year jobs were up by 24,200 or 0.9 percent. This over the year increase is slightly higher than that in January and shows a slow, but consistent, trend in job creation that started mid-summer 2003. Over-the-year job losses in manufacturing held steady at 11,700. Job gains in services were up across all major sectors, except for leisure and hospitality which saw job losses in the arts, entertainment, and recreation sub-sector (-2,300). Sectors showing particular strength over the year include construction, warehousing, software publishing, credit intermediation, and temporary help agencies.

February, the Tacoma metropolitan area (Pierce County) unemployment rate stands a tick above the statewide rate of 7.2 percent.

Tacoma’s rate of 6.9 percent continues above (0.9 point) the comparable – not seasonally adjusted – rate for the United States. Essentially, the Tacoma labor economy moved sideways in February, continuing to add jobs, but not increasing its pace of growth.

Place of work employment grew over the month and remained up over the year. Construction continues to be a positive factor, but manufacturing remains down very slightly over month and year. Services providing employment, which includes retail trade, was up modestly over the year.
Government employment – which includes public education and tribal establishments, such as casinos and retail enterprises – was up, but not significantly, over the month and year.