Whatcom County’s unemployment rate dropped to its lowest level in nearly four years, led by job growth in construction and tourism.
The local unemployment rate in September was estimated at 7 percent, down from a revised rate of 7.6 percent in August, according to data from the Washington State Employment Security Department. It’s the lowest monthly rate since December 2008, although it did drop to 7.1 percent in April.
“The big story here is Whatcom nearly getting into that 6 percent range,” said Elizabeth Court, a regional labor economist for the state. “What’s also important is that most of the job growth is happening in the private sector.”
In the past year this area has added 3,100 nonfarm private sector jobs, with the biggest jump coming in construction (up 900 jobs compared to September 2011) and leisure/hospitality (up 600). The public sector added 200 jobs in the same period, all state government positions, according to the data.
In the past year, 3,300 people were added to the workforce for a total of 108,090. The number of people actively seeking work declined by 490 to 7,610.
Court said the job growth locally in construction is consistent with much of the state. She noted that with the stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 already spent, much of the construction work is on private sector projects.
One other positive sign for the local labor market is in the unemployment insurance benefit data. Initial claims for unemployment benefits were 1,012 last month, the lowest level since September 2008.
“At this point were seeing a lot of positive trends in the Whatcom County market,” Court said.
Whatcom’s unemployment rate remains lower than several nearby counties, including Skagit (8.5 percent in September), Island (7.8 percent) and Snohomish (7.6 percent). Ferry and Grays Harbor counties had the highest unemployment rate last month at 12 percent, while San Juan had the lowest, at 5.3 percent.
Last month Washington state’s unemployment rate, seasonably adjusted, was 8.5 percent, while the national rate was 7.8 percent.