Whatcom County’s unemployment rate took its usual jump in January, but the numbers also indicate some weakness in the job market.
The local unemployment rate was estimated at 6.7 percent in January, up from a revised rate of 6.1 percent in December but slightly lower than the January 2015 mark of 6.8 percent. That’s according to the Washington State Employment Department, which released its report on Tuesday, March 15.
The unemployment rate typically goes up between December and January as the holiday shopping season ends. If it follows traditional trends, it will remain higher in February before going down during spring and summer, said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional labor economist for the state. She is concerned that some of the recent economic news could disrupt that trend, such as the potential loss of jobs at Ferndale’s Intalco Works at the end of June or the weak Canadian dollar. There’s also the closure of the CH2M Hill office that eliminated around 100 jobs and recent layoffs of around 60 people at Bellingham’s Faithlife.
Vance-Sherman said all of these announcements of job losses — some that have already happened and some that could potentially happen — take their toll on the local economy.
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She also noted that retail trade (down 100 jobs compared to a year ago) and leisure and hospitality (down 200 jobs) are being affected.
“Trade, transportation and leisure industries benefited at the depth of the recession from a strong Canadian dollar. Today, the ground has shifted,” Vance-Sherman said.
The number of people employed in construction in January totaled 5,900, down 200 compared to January 2015. While construction activity picked up in 2015, the local industry is still well below pre-recession levels.
Vance-Sherman estimates 2,800 construction jobs were shed during the 2008-09 recession; about 900 have been added since that time. That put staffing levels on par with about 16 years ago.
Industries that have been adding jobs locally in the past year include manufacturing (up 300 compared to January 2015), financial activities (up 100) and state government (up 300).