The unemployment rate in Whatcom County dropped in September, but it had more to do with the end of the berry harvest season than job growth.
In September the unemployment rate locally was 8.1 percent, down from a revised rate of 8.3 percent in August. However, the number of people working in Whatcom County also shrunk significantly in the same period, according to data from the Washington State Employment Division. Last month 92,150 people were employed in Whatcom County, down 4,460 people compared to August.
The number of people actively seeking work also dropped, from 8,770 in August to 8,110 in September.
The non-farm workforce statistics indicate a more stable employment situation: An estimated 78,000 Whatcom County residents were employed in the non-farm category in September, down 200 from September.
One of the few bright spots locally continues to be the manufacturing industry. It added 100 people between August and September, increasing the overall total to 8,400. That’s the highest monthly total since December 2008. Several other industries shrunk in the same period, including construction (down 100 people) and leisure and hospitality (down 300).
Compared to a year ago, the local labor force is down. In the past year non-farm employment has shrunk by 1,000 people. Government employment locally posted one of the biggest declines – It is down 1,600 from September 2010. As of last month, government employed 13,900 people in Whatcom County. Manufacturing (up 400 people) and retail trade (up 200) are among the few industries up year over year. Last year, the unemployment rate locally was 8 percent.
UPDATE: According to regional labor economist Reinhold Groepler, a factor in the big year-over-year drop in government employment is a change in the timing of when the data was collected on state college employment, which tends to bounce back in September as school starts. “Expect either a revision to September state government employment or a large September to October increase when the October data comes out,” Groepler said.
Whatcom’s unemployment rate continued to be lower than several nearby counties last month, including Skagit (9.2 percent) and Snohomish (9 percent). The county with the highest rate was Ferry (12.3 percent), while Whitman had the lowest (5.7 percent). Washington state’s unemployment rate, not seasonably adjusted, was 8.5 percent in September while the national rate was 8.8 percent.