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Shrinking workforce pushes state jobless rate to four-year low

Unemployment in Washington state is sinking to its lowest level in four years, according to an estimate of December’s jobless rate released by state economists.

The state’s unemployment was estimated at 7.6 percent in December, according to the Washington State Employment Security Department. That rate is slightly below a revised 7.7 percent estimate from November.

But while a lower jobless estimate might appear to be a positive sign, economists said recent declines were largely due to a shrinking labor force as many out-of-work residents call off job hunts.

The state only counts jobless people actively looking for work. Those who quit looking are not included in unemployment estimates.

Washington’s total workforce has lost 60,000 people, both with jobs and without, since hiring activity reached a low point in February 2010, according to Employment Security. Nearly half have been lost within the past year, state officials said.

About 115,000 jobs have been created in the past three years, according to recent data. Yet state officials attribute a loss of about 205,000 jobs to the 2008 recession.

By the numbers

Industries with best job growth:

• Construction, up 3,100 jobs

• Leisure and hospitality, up 1,400

• Education and health services, up 500

• Wholesale trade, up 200

Most job losses:

• Government, down 4,700

• Retail trade, down 4,100

• Professional and business services, down 1,900

• Other services, down 1,500

• Manufacturing, down 900

State economists estimate about 262,500 people (seasonally adjusted) were unemployed and looking for work in December, including 148,264 who claimed unemployment benefits.

Also last month, 4,186 jobless residents ran out of unemployment benefits. A total of 125,627 people in Washington have exhausted their unemployment insurance since extended benefits were activated in July 2008.

Evan Marczynski is a reporter for the Bellingham Business Journal.

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