Whatcom County's unemployment rate dropped significantly in August as the private sector continued to add jobs.
The local unemployment rate last month was 6.5 percent, down from a revised rate of 7.2 percent in July and 7.7 percent in August 2012.
Last month's local rate is the lowest since October 2012, according to data from the Washington State Employment Security Department.
Private sector job growth was a main factor in the lower rate. Whatcoms non-farm private sector employed 68,100 people, up 1,900 from a year ago. The biggest year-over-year jumps came in the leisure and hospitality sector, with an increase of 900 people. Other areas posting increases include retail (up 500 people) and manufacturing (up 400).
The rise in leisure and retail jobs is an indicator of increasing consumer confidence, as more people are willing to spend in those sectors, said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional labor economist for the state. She noted that Whatcom County is closely following statewide trends when it comes to job growth in those sectors.
One downside to the local unemployment report is the stagnant overall labor force. When all the other sectors are added in, including agriculture, government and those who work outside of Whatcom County, the overall number of people employed totaled 97,080, nearly identical to a year ago.
Vance-Sherman said the stagnant overall workforce is challenging to figure out at this stage because so many factors could be involved. The most worrisome would be the discouraged worker factor, but other reasons for leaving the workforce include retirement, pursuit of education and staying home to raise a family.
Whatcom's unemployment rate remained lower than that of Skagit County, which was 7.7 percent last month. King County (5.6 percent) and Snohomish (6.2 percent) had rates lower than Whatcom. The lowest unemployment rate in the state was in San Juan County, at 4.3 percent. The highest rate in the state was in Grays Harbor County, at 11 percent. Washingtons seasonably adjusted rate in August was 7 percent, while the national rate was 7.3 percent.