Washington’s preliminary unemployment picture delivered a mixed message for January, showing that the state jobless rate was unchanged from December at 7.5 percent, even though the state added 24,100 jobs, according to the state Employment Security Department.
Officials cautioned that it has been more than 17 years since the state experienced that much job growth in one month. The state has been averaging about 5,000 jobs a month for the past year.
“The trend over the past year probably gives us a better idea of what’s happening in the job market,” Employment Security chief labor economist Joe Elling said.
The state, which always releases a preliminary figure and a revised figure at a later date, expects that the job growth number for January will be revised downward.
In a teleconference with reporters Wednesday, Elling expanded on the reasons why the job creation number swelled in January.
The jobless data are partly based on business survey information, and business owners leading up to January may have previously underreported staff levels due to the holidays, Elling said. “Then, when they are fully staffed, we see these big jumps” in the numbers, he said.
The same applies to education, he said.
Job numbers are boosted as students return from the holidays to resume work study, teaching assistant or research assistant jobs.
He also pointed out that there was hiring tied to the start of the legislative session.
January jobless data are also some of the most volatile of the year, he added.
The result is that the government sector, which includes education, led all industry sectors, creating 5,500 jobs in the December to January period.
All industry sectors added jobs in the period, except for one: the private-sector education and health services industry, which shed 1,500 jobs.
Pierce County’s January jobless rate will be released Tuesday. In December, the county’s unemployment rate was 8.5 percent. The national unemployment rate in January was 7.9 percent.