Whatcom's unemployment rate remained among the lowest in the state last month, but keeping it below 7 percent could be a challenge in the months ahead.
In November the unemployment rate in Whatcom County was 6.5 percent, up slightly from a revised October rate of 6.3 percent, according to data from the Washington State Employment Security Division.
November's rate is the third straight month that Whatcom County was under 7 percent; that hasn't happened locally since 2008.
The unemployment rate typically rises significantly in December and January, as seasonal retail workers are laid off following the holiday shopping season. Last month, an estimated 11,000 people were employed in retail, the highest monthly total since 2007.
Overall job growth has remained solid the past year. According to the division, 66,700 people were employed locally in non-farm, private sector jobs last month, up 2,300 compared to November 2011.
Sectors that led the way include trade/transportation (up 700 the past year), construction (up 600) and manufacturing (up 400).
Public sector employment was flat the past year, employing 16,800 people.
Whatcom's overall labor force last month was 108,110, with 7,070 people actively seeking work.
A sign that the unemployment rate could continue to rise locally is a steady increase in initial unemployment benefit claims. Last month, Whatcom County had 1,452 initial claims, the highest monthly total since May.
Whatcom's unemployment rate remained lower than several nearby counties, including Skagit (8.4 percent in November) and Snohomish (6.9 percent). King County's rate was 6.3 percent.
The highest rate in the state was in Lewis County, at 11.5 percent. The lowest rate was in Whitman County, at 5.2 percent.
Washington's seasonally adjusted unemployment last month was 7.8 percent. The national rate was 7.7 percent.