Jobless rate falls, but still top in the state

Hiring from August to September continued to increase locally, but Grays Harbor County still remains tied for the state’s highest unemployment rate at 12 percent.

That 12 percent rate, however, is the lowest Grays Harbor has seen since the 10.4 percent rate in December 2008, said Jim Vleming, a regional labor economist for the state Employment Security Department.

“We have been riding double digits ever since,” Vleming said.

Ferry County in Eastern Washington also is now at 12 percent unemployment, after its rate dropped from 13.3 percent in the same time period, according to preliminary non-seasonally adjusted statistics released Tuesday by the state Employment Security Department.

Grays Harbor unemployment dropped from 12.8 percent to the current figure, which is the lowest unemployment rate since a high of 15.7 percent in January 2010.

Lewis County’s unemployment rate also remained high at 11.8 percent, dropping a full percentage point since being tied with Grays Harbor in August. Pacific County also saw a decrease over the month from 11 percent in August to 10.6 percent in September.

Statewide, the non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is 7.7 percent. King County’s rate dropped from 7.4 percent in August to 6.9 percent in September, while Pierce County went from 9.4 percent to 8.5 percent, and Thurston County went from 8.2 percent to 7.4 percent.

Locally, Grays Harbor saw a net gain of 220 non-farm jobs from August to September, but total employment of 21,660 still represents a 940-job loss (-4.2 percent) from the same period in September 2011. There were 180 new government jobs added for the month, with another 210 eduction jobs. Both of those figures, however, represent about 200 fewer government-related jobs than the year before.

The September figures do include hiring at the reopened Harbor Paper mill in Hoquiam.

“That’s as good as it can get,” Vleming said of the trend. “We can only go down and that’s the hope.”

He notes, however, that over the past few years, unemployment has tended to go up between September and October in Grays Harbor County. “We’ll see what happens this next go-round,” Vleming said.

Job increases from August to September included 70 new manufacturing jobs and 120 new service-providing jobs.

“Unfortunately, we have lost quite a few jobs in the other services sector over the year, and of course government and retail trade have been down over the year,” Vleming said. “So as far as non-farm employment goes, we have several sectors that are kind of reluctantly unwilling to join the recovery.”

The reason Ferry County’s unemployment rate continues to fluctuate so much, he added, is that it has a relatively small labor force “and the numbers can be very volatile. So it doesn’t take much to throw those numbers higher or lower.”

“You don’t see that in Grays Harbor,” he said of the fluctuating rate. “When you are talking non-farm employment of over 20,000, it takes a little bit more to jolt the numbers back to more sensible ground.”