The Pierce County unemployment rate shot up almost a full percentage point from April to May, and no one’s sure why.
State data, released Tuesday, showed a rate of 9.5 percent last month, up from a revised 8.8 percent the month before. Perplexingly, the data also showed 1,900 new jobs created in the county during that time across several sectors.
Employment Security Department regional economist Paul Turek, who focuses on Pierce County, said there weren’t many easy explanations.
Job growth in May was fairly widespread. In the construction sector alone, 400 jobs were added.
“That’s the positive,” Turek said, also emphasizing revised job-growth data for April that showed the county created 1,600 jobs.
But county jobless data is volatile, he said. It’s not adjusted for seasonal changes, like statewide data is. But the statewide data released last week showed a similar trend of creating jobs while also having an increasing unemployment rate. The statewide number stands at 8.3 percent.
Turek offered other possible explanations for the big jump in Pierce:
• A recent trend for Pierce County is to see job creation in May – for example, 800 in May 2011 – and yet the jobless rate has remained “sticky.” In the year-ago period, the unemployment rate rose to 9.9 percent in May from 9.8 percent in April.
• The higher rate also could be a sign that those receiving emergency or extended jobless benefits no longer have them, which means they are once again back in the job market. More people looking for work divided by the number of existing jobs, even if there’s more of them, can keep the rate elevated.
Turek said it was too early to tell, after just one month, whether the increase in the county’s jobless rate was a sign of a weakness in the larger economy.
High gasoline prices, however, can be considered a headwind, he said.
Meanwhile, Thurston County, too, showed signs of an improving economy if one can look past the slight increase in the jobless rate to 8.1 percent in May from 7.5 percent in April.
Regional economist Jim Vleming, who tracks the Thurston County labor market, said the county created 1,200 jobs last month and once again reached an important benchmark, surpassing 100,000 total nonfarm jobs in the county for the first time since May 2009.
Based on the job growth, the county’s jobless rate should fall below 8 percent in June, he said.
Regional jobless rates for May, not seasonally adjusted:
• King County (Seattle-Bellevue area): 7.1 percent.
• Kitsap County: 7.8 percent.
• Thurston County: 8.1 percent.
• Pierce County: 9.5 percent.
• Mason County: 10.9 percent.
• Lewis County: 13 percent.
• Grays Harbor County: 13.7 percent.Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403 firstname.lastname@example.org Source: Employment Security Department