Whatcom’s unemployment rate rises to 6.4 percent in March


More people are getting back into the job market, and that’s keeping Whatcom’s unemployment rate up.

The local unemployment rate was 6.4 percent in March, up from 6 percent a year earlier, according to the latest data from Washington’s Employment Security Department. It is down slightly from February, when the rate was 6.7 percent.

The number of Whatcom County people employed in the nonfarm sector totaled 88,900 last month, the highest monthly total ever for this area, according to the data. The number of people in the workforce — either working or actively seeking work — totaled 106,409 in Whatcom County, the highest total since mid-2009.

The trend of more people rejoining the workforce is happening statewide as well, said Scott Bailey, a regional labor economist for the state. That will keep the unemployment rate from coming down quickly.

“Even though job growth in Washington has been significantly above job growth nationally, our unemployment rate is higher due to more former workers jumping back into the labor market,” Bailey said in an email.

Whatcom County has experienced a series of job layoff announcements in recent months, including Sterling Life Insurance, CH2M Hill and Faithlife. Bailey said the number of layoffs from those companies hasn’t yet made a huge impact on the overall unemployment rate.

Whatcom County added 2,100 nonfarm jobs in the past year, with the biggest jumps coming from state government (up 500) and manufacturing (up 400).

At 4.7 percent, King County continued to have the lowest unemployment rate in the state last month. Ferry County had the highest, at 12.5 percent. Skagit County’s unemployment rate was 7.2 percent.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz