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State’s Unemployment Rate Drops Below 8 Percent

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credit:  Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington state’s unemployment rate dropped to 7.8 percent last month, the first time it’s been below 8 percent in nearly four years.

The state’s Employment Security Department said Wednesday that the fall from October’s 8.2 percent rate was the largest one-month decline in more than three decades. The last time the rate was below 8 percent was January 2009, when it was also at 7.8 percent.

“This is good news for Washington state workers and families,” Gov. Chris Gregoire said in a written statement. “We are clearly heading in the right direction as we slowly emerge from the Great Recession but we cannot rest until every Washingtonian who wants a job has one.”

Joe Elling, chief labor economist for Employment Security, said that the newest number reflects an increase in the number of those employed, but it also indicates a drop in the labor force, so-called discouraged workers who have stopped actively looking for work or just retired early. The unemployment rate is calculated by dividing the estimated number of unemployed who have sought work within the past four weeks by the state’s total civilian labor force.

Elling said that if those discouraged workers hadn’t dropped out of the labor force, November’s rate would be closer to 10 percent.

“We’re still so far from what we might consider full employment,” which is generally considered to be when the unemployment rate is at 6.5 percent, he said.

The state lost about 205,000 jobs from when employment peaked in February 2008 to the low point in February 2010. With November’s numbers, the state has seen a net gain of about 122,000 jobs since February 2010.

The state saw a net gain of 1,600 jobs in November. Industries that had the most job gains included retail trade, construction, leisure and hospitality, and transportation. Losses were seen in professional and business services, financial activities, wholesale trade and government.

Within the government sector, state agencies were down 900 jobs and public higher education saw a decline of 1,000 jobs. But 600 jobs were added in public K-12 schools and local and federal government agencies also saw a combined increase of 500 jobs.

The average monthly growth from August to November was 5,400, Ellis said. If that type of growth is maintained for a year, he said it would result in a growth rate of 2.3 percent.

“Job growth appeared to slow in November, but the trend of the last three months is very positive,” Elling said in a written statement.

An estimated 270,000 people in Washington were unemployed and looking for work last month, including nearly 136,000 who claimed unemployment benefits in November.

More than 5,300 unemployed workers ran out of unemployment benefits last month. A total of 121,273 people have exhausted their benefits since extended benefits were activated in July 2008.

Washington’s jobless rate is still higher than the national rate, which was 7.7 percent last month.

– Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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