State’s jobless rate ticks up to 6.9%

Is the glass half-full or half-empty? A report Wednesday on Washington state’s job market presented that classic conundrum, with cause for both optimism and pessimism.

While employers statewide added 8,800 jobs in July for the 10th-straight monthly gain, the unemployment rate rose to 6.9 percent from 6.8 percent in June. That snapped a 42-month string of steady or lower joblessness, according to data from the Employment Security Department. State labor economist Paul Turek, speaking Wednesday in a conference call with reporters, described July as “another decent month” for job growth.

“Hiring has picked back up in recent months after hitting a soft patch earlier in the year,” Turek said, noting that private-sector employers are becoming more confident, while government faces “downward pressure.”

With June job growth revised upward to 10,700 from an original estimate of 9,800, Washington’s economy has added an average of 6,000 jobs over the past 10 months, the state reported.

The education and health services sector posted the largest increase in July, up 6,400 jobs, followed by professional and business services, up 2,100, and leisure and hospitality, up 1,500.

The manufacturing and retail sectors also showed solid improvement, with respective job growth of 1,200 and 800. Among the sectors that posted job losses were wholesale trade, down 2,100; government, down 1,000; and construction, down 600.

The state now has regained about 83 percent of the 205,000 jobs it lost in the Great Recession.

But Wednesday’s report also gave some cause for pessimism. The ranks of unemployed ticked up by 1 percent to 239,600 people. And the labor force, which counts those who are working or actively looking for work, declined by 9,800 people to 3.49 million.

Economist Alex Miron, who follows the Washington job market for Moody’s Analytics, took a longer view, noting that the labor force has increased by nearly 25,000 people since January.

Miron also said the uptick in joblessness did not surprise him, given how much the rate dropped this past spring despite sluggish hiring. In May, for instance, the state gained only 4,600 jobs, but the unemployment rate fell two-tenths of a percentage point to 6.8 percent.

“The increase is a little overdue,” he said, adding that with job growth picking back up, “unemployment will head lower in the second half of the year.”

Locally, the Seattle-area jobless rate rose a tenth of a percentage point in July to 4.8 percent.

About 74,200 people were unemployed, up 1,700 from June, while the local labor force grew by 1,200 people, to 1.54 million.

Nationally, the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 7.4 percent in July from 7.6 percent in June, but the number of jobs added, 162,000, was widely seen as disappointing.

The last time the state’s unemployment rate increased was December 2009, when it hit a recessionary peak of 10.2 percent.