With holiday retail gone, Whatcom's jobless rate goes to 8.6 percent

With seasonal retail workers out of holiday jobs, initial estimates placed Whatcom County’s January unemployment rate at 8.6 percent, according the Washington State Employment Security Department.

That rate jumped from a revised 7.1 percent estimate last December. But rises in jobless rates are common as a new year begins, said regional labor economist Anneliese Vance-Sherman.

“I would attribute a lot of that to the usual dips associated with holiday hiring and retail,” Vance-Sherman said.

While it was a significant spike from last December, January’s 8.6 percent jobless rate was only slightly above the 8.5 percent estimate from January 2012. Vance-Sherman said year-over-year trends generally provide a better look at local employment, particularly when seasonal factors influence month-to-month numbers.

Statewide unemployment in January was estimated at 7.5 percent earlier this month. State-level estimates are adjusted to reflect seasonal factors, while county-level estimates are not due to their smaller sample sizes.

Whatcom had the lowest unemployment estimate among counties in northwest Washington. Skagit County’s jobless rate was estimated at 10.4 percent, Island County was at 9 percent, and San Juan County was at 8.8 percent.

Counties across the state posted high jobless figures in January, according to the estimates. Only three of Washington’s 39 counties kept their unemployment below 8 percent that month. More than half had jobless rates above 10 percent.

In Whatcom County, the private sector lost an estimated 1,500 jobs between January and December, according to state economists. Industries that led the losses included retail (down an estimated 500 jobs), leisure and hospitality (down 200), construction (down 200), and manufacturing (down 100). The public sector lost an estimated 200 jobs.

Yet all local industries, excluding government and construction, gained jobs between January 2012 and January 2013.

Despite the ups and downs in construction work over the past year—estimates show the sector lost 100 jobs between January 2012 and January 2013—Vance-Sherman highlighted the industry as having been a strong job provider for Whatcom County and other counties in the state.

Evan Marczynski, lead reporter for The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or evan@bbjtoday.com

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