Unemployment drops to lowest rate in four years

Washington’s job growth accelerated in March and the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped to 5.2 percent from 5.5 percent in February, Employment Security Commissioner Karen Lee announced today. The nation’s unemployment rate also fell in March, to 5.2 percent from 5.4 percent a month earlier. March marked the first time since March 1998 that Washington’s unemployment rate was as low as the national average.

“Seasonally adjusted, Washington’s economy created 8,200 net new payroll jobs in March,” Lee said. “And our state’s unemployment rate fell to its lowest level since December 2000.”

Before adjusting for normal seasonal variations, the unemployment rate decreased from 6.4 percent in February to 5.7 percent in March, and nonfarm payroll employment increased by 22,300. Private sector employment jumped by 19,600, accounting for 88 percent of the total increase in payroll jobs.

Employment gains were broad-based in both goods-producing and service-providing industries. Construction employment (4,500) continued to rise, boosted by ongoing strength in construction activity. Factories again added jobs in March (700), with increases registered in both durable and nondurable goods manufacturing. Natural resources and mining employment was basically flat from February to March.

The strongest month-to-month employment gain took place in the leisure and hospitality industry (4,600). Still, the increase this year was smaller than that recorded last year, as the ill effects of scant winter snowfall in the Cascades persisted in ski areas. Professional and business services employment advanced a solid 4,000 in March, with particularly strong increases in landscaping supply services. Government employment was up 2,700 during the month, once again driven by seasonal increases in state (800) and local educational services (1,600). Employment in education and health services posted a healthy 1,800 increase, while retail saw a typical seasonal rebound (1,200). Wholesale trade and financial activities recorded more modest gains in March, while information services employment was flat.

From a year earlier, Washington’s payroll employment in March was up 55,300. The strongest gains were evident in professional and business services (11,900) and retail trade (10,900), followed by education and health services (8,700) and construction (6,700). Manufacturing employment increased 3,500 over the year, despite a loss of 2,700 jobs in nondurable goods. Financial activities was the only major sector to lose jobs since last March (300).

The number of unemployed workers fell 49,000 since last March. Employment security encourages the 184,800 unemployed workers in Washington to visit a local WorkSource office and check online job listings at http://www.go2worksource.com.