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Local economy ‘steady’

1:04 pm September 4th, 2012

Pierce County’s economy is neither getting a lot better or a lot worse. It’s “locked in a pattern of steady growth,” says a regional economist for the state.

Paul Turek, who analyzes Pierce for Washington’s Employment Security Department, said the relative steadiness will probably continue the rest of this year.

“The economy is like a boat we’re trying to turn around. It’s not a speedboat. It won’t turn on a dime,” Turek said.

His comment came as the state announced its unemployment rate and job numbers for July. The initial findings last week indicate the state gained 5,000 jobs, while the unemployment rate rose from 8.3 percent in June to 8.5 percent last month, according to the Employment Security officials. Both figures are subject to future revisions as more data comes in.

Pierce County also experienced “slow, modest growth” in job opportunities and a slight “bump up” in joblessness to 9 percent, Turek said. Unemployment was at 8.9 percent in June

Turek noted Pierce’s unemployment rate has been hovering at about 9 percent for a while. But he said that’s progress compared to this time last year, when the jobless figure was 9.7 percent.

Similar optimism accompanied the statewide unemployment rate in July, which was nearly a full point lower than the 9.3 percent average in 2011.

“The real debate is whether there’s enough impovement,” Turek said.

This year, the county experienced a net loss of about 1,500 jobs in July. That was due mainly to 2,300 jobs that were seasonal losses as a result of public schools laying some workers off at the end of the 2011-12 school year. That’s an annual occurrence, Turek said.

Examples of other seasonal fluctuations that skew the employment figures include retailers hiring extra workers for the holiday shopping season and the construction trades being busier during good weather.

Statewide, most of last month’s job growth occurred in service-related businesses such as equipment repair, religious activities, dry cleaning, funeral services, pet care and dating services. By contrast, the biggest losses were in the professional and business services sector, which had grown substantially over the previous several months, according to Employment Security.

The rise in the unemployment rate statewide stemmed largely from a decline of 9,700 in the total workforce and a small increase in the number of unemployed who are looking for work.

“The July numbers illustrate that surveys aren’t perfect, and preliminary results are often revised later,” said Joe Elling, Employment Security’s chief labor economist. “When you compare where we are now to the same period a year ago, it’s apparent that the labor market is improving.”

In July 2011, the state’s unemployment rate was 9.3 percent. Since then, the total labor force has grown by more than 39,000, and the number of unemployed workers who are actively looking for a job has shrunk by about 24,500, officials reported.

Industries that added the most jobs last month included education and health services (1,900), manufacturing (1,600), wholesale trade (1,200), leisure and hospitality (1,200) transportation, warehousing, utilities and financial services, each up 900.

Industries that lost jobs included professional and business services, down 4,600, and government (1,300).

Within the government sector, federal employment in Washington grew by 300 jobs, state agencies lost an estimated 2,400 jobs, public higher education added 500, and local governments added 300s.

In July, an estimated 298,000 people (seasonally adjusted) in Washington were unemployed and looking for work. That includes 139,444 who claimed unemployment benefits last month.

Also in July, 4,212 unemployed workers ran out of unemployment benefits, bringing the total to 105,240 since extended benefits were activated in July 2008.

Pierce County had a higher unemployment rate than its five neighboring counties. King and Thurston counties were at 7.8 percent, Lewis at 12.3, Yakima at 8.4 and Kittitas at 8.8.

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