May 21, 2010
Job picture brightens; older workers struggle
Seattle Times business reporter
Larry Dinwiddie, left rear, 57, of Tumwater, attends a career fair in Tacoma. He's been jobless since December. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)
A year and a half ago, Larry Dinwiddie was working at Boeing's Everett plant as an assembly installer, helping put together 777 wings. But in December 2008, after three years on the line, he quit.
"It was boring and repetitive, and one day I just said to myself 'I have a life' and walked out," said Dinwiddie, 57.
In retrospect, he said, "it was probably a stupid thing to do." Dinwiddie hasn't worked since.
He's one of thousands of long-term unemployed people — many of them older workers — who've swelled the state's jobless rolls since the recession began to bite hard in late 2008.
Those folks got a glimmer of good news Tuesday, when the state Employment Security Department reported that Washington's economy added 5,800 jobs in April — the third month out of four this year in which payrolls expanded.
Along with a drop in the state unemployment rate to 9.2 percent — the first month-over-month improvement since March 2007 — the report suggested Washington is finally, albeit slowly, beginning to climb out of its recessionary pit.
"We can't guarantee what's going to happen in future months," said David Wallace, the state's acting chief labor economist. "But I think we can take this as pretty good news."
All told, Washington has gained a net 14,800 jobs since the beginning of 2010. (The data are adjusted to reflect seasonal variations in the labor force.)
"That's a long enough period to see something of a trend, and it's a positive trend," Wallace said.
Still, it's just a fraction of the 193,000 jobs lost between February 2008, the peak of the previous jobs cycle, and December 2009, the recent bottom.
Unemployment also edged lower in the Seattle metropolitan area, to 8.5 percent from 8.6 percent in March.
The U.S. unemployment rate, by contrast, was 9.9 percent last month.
As the recession has ground on, more and more people have been out of work for a long time. According to April's national jobs report, 6.7 million people have been unemployed for more than 26 weeks — 45.9 percent of all unemployed people.
Youngest hit hardest
Nationally, the youngest workers have the highest unemployment rate of any age group — 25.4 percent.
But Dinwiddie, who attended a career fair Tuesday in Tacoma sponsored by AARP, is among those who've found that older workers who lose or leave their jobs are more likely to be out of work for an extended period.
A report by AARP, using March data, showed that jobless people age 55 or above had been out of work an average 38.4 weeks, versus an average 31.2 weeks for all unemployed people.
(Such breakdowns of Washington's unemployed population by age are not available, though Wallace said he doesn't think the state varies significantly from the nation as a whole.)
"It may be, for many people, the first time in 15 or 20 years they've been out of work, and the job-search process has changed significantly over that time," said Deborah Russell, AARP's director of work-force issues.
For the first time in a recession, AARP has organized a series of career fairs across the country — 48 between March and November, including Tuesday's event in Tacoma — to teach current job-search skills to older workers.
Topics include retooling one's résumé to attract employers online and handling "behavioral interviews," the kind where applicants are asked how they would handle particular situations.
Last month's job gains in Washington were spread broadly across most business sectors, with only a few industries — including financial services, aerospace, and architectural and engineering services — losing jobs.
The beleaguered construction industry added 1,400 jobs in April, as gains in heavy and civil engineering and specialty-trade contractors (such as plumbers and electricians) more than offset continued losses in building construction.
Other big gainers, adjusted to reflect seasonal variations in the work force, included retail, which added 1,300 jobs; employment services, up 1,000; arts, entertainment and recreation, up 800; and food manufacturing, up 700.
The upturn in jobs was a pleasant surprise for Dinwiddie, who's done a lot in his life — from working on a crab-processing boat to delivering singing telegrams — but wants to return to his old job as a bellman.
"If people have more money, they'll spend it, and some of them will spend it at nice hotels and resorts," he said after attending his second job fair of the day, in Olympia, where he tried to persuade Great Wolf Lodge that the family-oriented water resort in Thurston County needed a bellman.
Drew DeSilver: 206-464-3145 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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