Washington State jobless rate inches up

By Amy Trask
Seattle Times business reporter

Seattle, WA - 5/15/02 - If you're listening to talk that says the national economy is on the mend and thinking Washington's job worries will soon be over, think again.

The state's job market remains weak in most sectors, although improving consumer confidence helped the retail and service industries, according to figures released by the state yesterday.

The state's unemployment rate rose slightly to 7.1 percent last month. Washington remained second only to Oregon in the number of residents out of work. Oregon's jobless rate fell in April for the second month in a row to 7.5 percent.

Last month, the nation's unemployment rate jumped to 6 percent the highest in nearly eight years.

"The national rise may be linked to an improving economy that has enticed discouraged workers into the job hunt, adding them back into the statistics as unemployed," said Sylvia Mundy, the state employment-security commissioner.

Gary Kamimura, a senior economist with the state Employment Security Department, said the state's continued declines in employment come as no surprise, given weakness in key sectors, like aerospace manufacturing and technology.

Additionally, energy-dependent industries are holding back on hiring, because they are expecting higher wholesale costs later this year, he said.

The retail and services industries are seeing small improvements, thanks to increasing consumer spending. The service industry accounted for more than half of the 8,800 nonfarm jobs added in the state last month.

He said that joblessness in Washington will trail improvements nationwide, not picking up until the early part of 2003.

Not adjusted for seasonal factors, the state's jobless rate fell to 7 percent, less than half the usual drop for this time of year.

Kamimura said employers are seeing increasing orders for goods and services but are still reluctant to add employees.

Improvements in hiring in the Seattle area are happening, but very, very slowly, said Gayle Heppenstall, a human-resources representative for Safeway, who was recruiting yesterday at a job fair at Safeco Field. "It's coming back," she said. "It's trickling, not full-force."

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