Thursday, May 23, 2024

Washington State sees job growth slow, unemployment rise in February

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OLYMPIA - Washington's economy added 2,600 jobs in February, but the unemployment rate ticked up to 4.7%, marking the highest level since 2021 and the fifth straight month of rising joblessness.

The latest employment figures released Wednesday by the Employment Security Department signal a potential shift away from the extremely tight labor market that characterized the post-COVID pandemic period.

"Over the past several months, the unemployment rate has increased bit by bit," said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, the department's chief labor economist. "That 4.7% unemployment rate signals a possible shift from an unusually tight labor market."

Job growth remains positive overall but has slowed considerably in recent months as employment increases in some sectors, such as education/health services and transportation, but declines in others, like professional/business services.

Digging into the details, seven major industry sectors expanded payrolls in February while six contracted. The biggest gains were in education/health services (+2,200 jobs) and transportation/warehousing (+1,600). The steepest losses were in professional/business services (-2,700).

Over the past year through February, Washington gained an estimated 52,000 jobs, led by education/health, government and leisure/hospitality. But sectors like information, construction and retail saw significant annual job losses.

The slowing state labor market mirrors the national trend, as the U.S. unemployment rate also edged up to 3.9% in February from 3.6% a year earlier.

State labor officials say the rising unemployment rate combined with slower job growth could mark an inflection point as the white-hot economy cools from the hiring frenzy of the past couple of years following pandemic shutdowns.

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