Seasonal losses push Whatcom's jobless rate to 6.9 percent

While Whatcom County’s first jobless estimate of the year showed a jump in unemployment, economists said overall the county has recently shown some of the best job growth in Washington.

The unemployment rate for Whatcom in December was 6.9 percent, according to a preliminary estimate from the state Employment Security Department.

That estimate is below the level from December 2011, when unemployment stood at 7.9 percent. But it is up from November 2012, when the jobless rate in Whatcom was estimated at 6.5 percent.

Earlier this month, statewide unemployment in December was estimated at 7.6 percent, the lowest rate Washington has reported in four years. Yet economists pointed out that the state’s decreasing workforce—as more out-of-work residents decide to give up their job hunts—could bring “artificial” drops in the unemployment rate.

While jobless estimates are seasonally adjusted at the state level, county estimates are not due to their smaller sample sizes.

Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a labor economist with the Employment Security Department, said when it comes to year-over-year job creation, Whatcom County has been a high note in Washington.

The county’s overall non-farm employment grew by 2.1 percent in 2012, compared to statewide growth of 1.5 percent, according to state estimates.

“Whatcom County is one of the counties that is leading the state in terms of proportional growth,” Vance-Sherman said.

Still, almost every industry in the county saw monthly job losses from November to December 2012.

Service-providing employers shed 800 jobs, and total private-sector employment was down by 700 jobs, according to the December estimate.

In the public arena, state-government agencies in Whatcom County dropped 300 employees.

Local growth was seen in the trade, transportation and utilities sector, which added 100 jobs.

Vance-Sherman said job losses in December were not uncommon, since many retailers and seasonal employers reduce their staffs after the holidays and construction projects are put on hold due to winter weather.

She added that hiring in recent years has usually picked up around March and April.

Whatcom’s overall workforce grew by 360 people in December, bringing its total to 108,420.

The state estimates 7,520 people were out-of-work yet actively seeking employment in Whatcom last month.

Compared to other counties in northwest Washington, Whatcom has one of the lower December jobless estimates. San Juan County posted the lowest estimate in the region, at 6.9 percent.

Island County unemployment was estimated at 7.9 percent, and Skagit County posted a jobless rate of 9.1 percent.

The lowest unemployment estimate in Washington came from Whitman County, at 5.4 percent. The highest was in Ferry County, which reported 13 percent unemployment, according to initial estimates.

Complete statitistics for Whatcom County and other counties in the state are available online at www.esd.wa.gov/employmentdata.

Contact Evan Marczynski at evan@bbjtoday.com or call 360-647-8805. 

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