It’s a mixed bag of good and bad news when it comes to the local job market.
Last month the unemployment rate was 7.9 percent in Whatcom County, up from a revised rate of 7.5 percent in October, according to a report from the Washington State Employment Security Department. It remains well below the state rate of 9.2 percent and the national rate of 9.8 percent.
Whatcom County experienced a situation where the unemployment rate rose even as jobs are being added in November. This area’s total labor force was 108,930 in last month, up by 2,180 compared to November 2009 and up 1,870 since October. The number of people working rose by 2,000 year-over-year and 1,300 compared to October. It’s a sign that more discouraged unemployed — those who had given up looking for work and not counted in the unemployment rate — are actively seeking employment again.
However, the job growth is not happening in the non-farm private sector, which remains a bad sign, said Reinhold Groepler, a regional labor economist for the state. Last month 62,200 people employed in the private nonfarm sector, down 1,200 from November 2009. Government jobs were down by 500 year-over-year. That means job growth is taking place in other sectors, such as agriculture, or more people are commuting outside of Whatcom County or working from home.
“The payroll employment situation this year is looking more like the last two years, with weakness at the close (of 2010) and a possibly troubling beginning to the New Year,” Groepler said in a report about the numbers. “The bright side of the national picture is that leading indicators are point-ing to a modest non-seasonal rise in the economy by late spring and summer, so even though the short term may look troubling, there is some cause for optimism.”
Every major private sector category in Whatcom County was down compared to November 2009, with the exception of manufacturing (up 200 jobs) and leisure/hospitality (up 100 jobs). Construction (down 500) and local government (down 400) were areas that saw some of the biggest year-over-year declines.
Unemployment benefit claims also rose locally. Initial unemployment claims totaled 1,993 last month, the highest monthly total since December 2009. Ongoing unemployment claims was 3,483 in November, an increase of 625 compared to October.
In nearby counties, Skagit’s rate jumped to 10 percent in November, up from 9.2 percent in October, while Snohomish County also hit 10 percent. King County’s rate remained at 8.7 percent.