Construction job gains that labor economists have anticipated for the past year in Whatcom County appear to be materializing, according to new employment data released by the Washington State Employment Security Department.
While sector-specific numbers for construction are tough to pin down—estimates can sway depending on which firms economists contact for surveys during any given month—the latest data show local construction hiring is up, said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a labor economist for the state.
The Employment Security Department estimates the industry’s employment grew by 9.1 percent in February (a gain of 500 jobs), compared to the same month last year.
Whatcom County’s overall unemployment rate in February, initially estimated at 7.6 percent, is a sharp rise from the previous month’s revised rate of 6.7 percent. Yet February’s jobless estimate is below an 8.1 percent unemployment rate recorded during the same month in 2013.
Although the month-to-month increase in local unemployment appears steep, Vance-Sherman said the data are following seasonal patterns. She added that it is difficult to draw conclusions so early in the year.
“January and February tend to have higher unemployment rates in Whatcom County, every year,” Vance-Sherman said.
February’s estimates show Whatcom County’s private employers added 1,700 jobs last month, a year-over-year increase of 2.6 percent.
Vance-Sherman noted the percentage increase in Whatcom County’s private sector jobs in February outpaced statewide year-over-year growth of 1.9 percent.
Local job gains were reported in multiple industries. Retailers added 300 jobs. The financial activities and business services sectors each added 100.
Sectors showing job losses included manufacturing (200 jobs) and leisure and hospitality (down 100).
Public-sector employers in Whatcom County added 200 jobs overall in February.
While the county’s labor force held mostly intact—Employment Security estimates show a drop of just 80 people in February, compared to the same month in 2013—Vance-Sherman said the lack of new additions to the local job market remains a concern.
“We continue to see a weak labor force,” she said.
Most counties in Washington state reported seasonal increases in their unemployment rates in February.
San Juan County had the lowest jobless estimate in northwest Washington, at 7 percent.
Island County was at 8.3 percent; Skagit County was at 8.8 percent.
King County has the lowest unemployment rate across the state in February, posting a jobless estimate of 5.2 percent. Ferry County, in eastern Washington, had the highest, at 13.7 percent.
Evan Marczynski, associate editor of The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or firstname.lastname@example.org.