Whatcom unemployment rate up, but private sector posts increase in jobs

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 23, 2013 

Whatcom County's unemployment rate was up in June, but at the same time private sector employment is at its highest level in more than four years.

The local unemployment last month was 7.5 percent, up from a 7.1 percent revised rate in May.

Last month's rate is equal to the rate in June 2012, according to data from the Washington Employment Security Department.

The unemployment rate is rising at a time when private sector employment is also increasing. Last month, 67,400 people were employed in local private sector jobs; the highest total since November 2008. It's also up by 1,500 people compared to a year ago.

The overall workforce is struggling, however. When you add in other sectors, including farming, government and people who work outside of Whatcom County, this area employed 96,100 people last month, down 1,560 from a year ago.

The increase in people actively looking for work appears to be coming more from those who had previously given up looking, rather than those who had been recently laid off.

According to the data, 948 local residents filed for new unemployment insurance claims in June, the lowest monthly total since July 2008. The number of people continuing to receive unemployment benefits locally was 2,188 last month, the lowest since October 2012.

Scott Bailey, a regional labor economist for the state, said that generally speaking, the state is seeing a trend of more people coming back into the workforce.

"We're still climbing out of that well, but we still have a ways to go," he said. "We still have a lot of people sitting on the sidelines."

The job increases in the private sector the past year are in a variety of industries, including construction (up 600 people), retail (up 500) and leisure/hospitality (up 300).

Whatcom's unemployment rate is lower than Skagit (8.7 percent) and Pierce (8.5 percent) counties. The lowest rates in the state were King (5.2 percent), Snohomish (5.7 percent) and San Juan (5.7 percent) counties. The highest unemployment rate was in Grays Harbor County, at 12.1 percent.

Reach Business Editor Dave Gallagher at 360-715-2269 or dave.gallagher@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Business blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/business or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldbiz.

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