State unemployment rate drops to 6.6 percent, lowest in 5 years

OLYMPIA – A significant drop in the seasonally adjusted rate of unemployment in December, combined with an increase in estimated total jobs, provide reasons for optimism about the state’s labor market.

The Employment Security Department’s estimated unemployment rate for December was 6.6 percent, down from 6.8 percent in November. The last time the state’s unemployment rate was this low was in November 2008, when it was 6.5 percent.

Meanwhile, the state gained an estimated 4,800 in December, amounting to an increase of 0.2 percent. Economists also revised the November preliminary job numbers upward by more than 4,000, from a loss of 6,000 to a loss of 1,600.

Paul Turek, an Employment Security labor economist, said the drop in December’s unemployment rate was caused primarily by a shrinking labor force as discouraged job seekers stopped looking for work. Nevertheless, Washington’s labor market appeared to be stronger in December than the previous two months, he said.

“We’re not heading southward, we’re heading northward,” said Turek. “It was a baby step in the right direction.”

As usual, job gains and losses varied by industry sector. Big gains were seen in professional and business services, where 2,900 new jobs were added, largely in temporary agencies. Jobs in private education and health services increased by 2,000. Other services, a catch-all category including auto body shops and nail salons, added 1,400 jobs. Wholesale trade increased by 1,300; construction by 800; leisure and hospitality, 600; and mining and logging, 100.

The greatest job losses were reported in government, which shed 1,500 jobs, and manufacturing, which lost 1,400. All of the lost government jobs were state agencies and public colleges. In manufacturing, job losses were predominantly in food processing.

Other sectors with jobs declines included information and retail trade, which were both down by 400 jobs. The transportation, warehousing and utilities sector and the financial activities sector each lost 300 jobs.

Over the past year, an estimated 41,800 jobs have been added in Washington. Since the low point of the recession, when 205,000 jobs were lost, 170,600 (83 percent) have been added.

In December, an estimated 227,900 people (seasonally adjusted) in Washington were unemployed and looking for work. That includes 125,200 who claimed unemployment benefits last month.

Washington to regain 9 weeks of long-term unemployment benefits

 
“It’s ironic that the federal shutdown contributed to the rise in our unemployment rate and caused these benefits to be reactivated,” said Employment Security Commissioner Dale Peinecke.
 
Unemployed workers who used up their EUC tier 2 benefits after Aug. 10 may become eligible for tier 3 benefits beginning the week of Dec. 8-14.
 
However, everyone who is claiming unemployment benefits should be aware that the entire Emergency Unemployment Compensation program ends on Dec. 28, unless Congress votes to extend it.
 
The Employment Security Department is using a combination of email, robocalls and letters to alert potentially eligible customers about the change in benefits. Information also has been posted on the department’s website: esd.wa.gov.
 
About 24,000 people in Washington currently are in EUC tier 1 or 2. Nearly 11,000 individuals may be eligible to claim tier 3 benefits.
 
Since the program was activated in July 2008, nearly $6.3 billion in emergency unemployment compensation has been paid to about 451,000 jobless workers in Washington state.

New study says Worksource pays off for job seekers in Washington

“This study shows that taking a little time up front to get help with your job-seeking skills can actually help you return to work faster and at a better wage,” said Employment Security Commissioner Dale Peinecke.  

WorkSource customers were less likely to be employed in the first quarter while participating in workshops and other employment services and, thus, their earnings were lower in the first two quarters of the study. However, the pattern shifted for the remainder of the study period, with WorkSource clients enjoying more sustained employment and greater earnings than non-clients. 

“It’s a competitive job market out there, and I was getting absolutely nowhere with my job hunt,” said Dave Wallace, who sought help from WorkSource Everett. “WorkSource staff showed me how to look for work, create a targeted résumé and interview with employers. It made all the difference for me.”   

The study also investigated whether the federal funding spent on the WorkSource system produced benefits to society as a whole. Assuming costs ranged from $100 to $500 per customer, the study calculated an average “social return on investment” of 14 to 23 percent. The return was most dramatic for woman, ranging from 16 to 34 percent, while the return for men was 12 to 18 percent.  

Other benefits to Washington’s government and taxpayers, such as reduced unemployment-benefit payouts as well as increased spending and higher tax revenue from the re-employed workers, were not factored into the social return on investment. 

“There’s no doubt that taxpayers’ investment in WorkSource is really paying off,” said Peinecke.

WorkSource is a partnership of state, local and nonprofit agencies that deliver a wide array of employment and training services throughout Washington. Nearly 280,000 people in Washington received assistance from WorkSource in 2012.

For more information, visit a local WorkSource career center or read about it online atgo2worksource.com.

Impacts of federal shutdown on Washington State

FOOD ASSISTANCE

State Department of Health spokesman Tim Church said that the agency would be able to continue to provide the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC, for nine days after a shutdown. After that, the program, which provides checks for supplemental food, health care referrals and nutrition education for pregnant women, mothers and their young children, would shut down. About 195,000 people a month are served under the program.

RECREATION

All national parks would be closed, as well as national monuments like Mount St. Helens, and Forest Service ranger stations would be closed. Visitors using overnight campgrounds or other park facilities would be given 48 hours to make alternate arrangements and leave the park.

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS:

The Employment Security Department said that it will continue paying unemployment benefits through this week, but said that it is uncertain whether officials would be able to maintain that if a federal shutdown lasted until next week.

NATIONAL GUARD

Fulltime active guardsmen will not be furloughed, but roughly 1,000 federal technicians, including vehicle and aircraft maintenance workers, computer technicians and human resources personnel would be furloughed starting Tuesday, according to Karina Shagren, spokeswoman for the state Department of the Military. Shagren said employees have been told to come in on Tuesday to receive further instructions. The governor would still be able to activate furloughed employees in case of an emergency that required him to call up the National Guard.

TRANSPORTATION:

Current highway projects aren’t at immediate risk, Department of Transportation spokesman Lars Erickson said, but if a shutdown lasted for more than a month, it could hold up permitting on some projects, potentially causing delays.

Washington Unemployed Loosing 26 Weeks of Benefits

In total, the maximum weeks of unemployment benefits will drop from 99 to 73 for most eligible workers.

“The good news, if any is here, is that our unemployment rate is getting better,” said Sheryl Hutchison, a spokeswoman for the Employment Security Department. However, she noted that “the loss of these benefits will make the situation a lot more urgent for families around the state.”

Officials estimate that approximately 12,500 unemployed workers will lose benefits immediately when extended benefits end on April 21. More than 11,000 workers will exhaust their emergency benefits within eight weeks after April 21. Another 40,000 people could run out of unemployment benefits during the final six months of the year.

The department said that currently, about 175,000 people are claiming either regular, emergency or extended benefits each week. About 76,000 people in the state have claimed all of their available unemployment benefits to date.

Those who are still unemployed and claiming long-term benefits will soon be receiving notices from the department informing them of the change.