January 18, 2008
State's jobless rate for 2007 sets new low
Seattle Times business reporter
Unemployment in Washington ticked up last month, though the state still completed the year with its lowest average annual jobless rate ever.
The outlook for this year, however, is less rosy.
For 2007, the jobless rate averaged 4.7 percent, the lowest since the current system for tracking unemployment started in 1976. The previous record low was in both 1998 and 1999, near the peak of the dot-com boom, when j unemployment averaged 4.8 percent.
While information technology remains a key part of the state's economy ndash; the software industry, for instance, added 2,400 jobs last year ndash; many of the engines of 2007's job boom were in grittier fields, such as construction and aerospace.
Washington's construction industry, like the state's housing market, defied the national real-estate downturn, adding 13,700 jobs last year for a 6.85 percent gain.
Aerospace, driven by record plane orders at Boeing and the company's attempts to get its 787 program back on track, gained 5,800 jobs, for a 7.58 percent growth rate.
For December, the state jobless rate, adjusted for seasonal variations, rose a tenth of a percentage point to 4.8 percent, still below the 5 percent rate recorded in December 2006. With the national rate reaching 5 percent last month, Washington is in the unusual position of having a lower unemployment rate than the U.S. as a whole.
In the Seattle metro area, made up of King and Snohomish counties, seasonally adjusted joblessness rose to 3.9 percent from 3.7 in November. Nonfarm payrolls in those two counties fell by 100.
Pierce County added 700 payroll jobs, though its December jobless rate, not seasonally adjusted, rose to 4.9 percent from 4.8 in November.
On the service side of Washington's economy, the standout performer last year was professional and business services ndash; a catchall category that includes everything from temporary-help agencies (up 4,800 jobs) to computer-systems design (up 2,900 jobs). Health-care providers added 6,600 jobs in 2007, while bar and restaurant payrolls grew by 7,300.
On the other hand, retail payrolls fell by a seasonally adjusted 1,700 jobs in December, indicating retailers added fewer workers than usual during what has proved, for most, to be a disappointing holiday shopping season.
Though Washington remains healthier than the overall U.S. economy, Evelina Tainer, the state's chief labor economist, said job growth here generally was weaker in the second half of 2007 (averaging about 4,800 new jobs a month) than in the first half (when monthly job growth averaged 8,050).
That, she said, suggests job growth will slow further in the new year ndash; particularly in formerly red-hot fields such as construction, which added just 200 jobs last month.
"I really think [construction] is going to trickle in 2008," Tainer said. "If we see [payroll] increases at all, they're going to be small."
Drew DeSilver: 206-464-3145
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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