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November jobless rate falls, but signals mixed

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WENATCHEE — A jumble of job numbers, both good and bad, added up to an improved unemployment rate across North Central Washington in November, the tenth month this year to show job market gains.

Things definitely looked mixed,” said Regional Labor Economist Mark Berreth. “Overall employment figures show the entire area moving in a positive direction, but some issues still hang in the balance.”

He noted that the civilian labor force shrank, while consumer confidence rose. Private-sector jobs declined, while state government jobs increased. Ag and construction shed jobs for the winter, while hiring in retail and tourism bounced up for the holiday season.

The November jobless rate for Chelan and Douglas counties fell to 7.3 percent, a 0.6 percent drop from the same month last year. That matched the statewide unemployment rate, which fell 1.1 percent below November 2011’s reading. Nationwide, the jobless rate dropped to 7.7 percent for the month, a decline of 1 percent from November last year.

County unemployment numbers were released Wednesday by the state Employment Security Department.

In Chelan and Douglas counties, the big picture was encouraging while sector-by-sector totals gave pause, said Berreth. “The overall growth was great to see,” he said, “but the details of that growth left a little to be desired.”

Manufacturing, which includes some fruit warehousing and packing, led all sectors with a 4 percent jump and the addition of 100 jobs. Tourism followed with a 3.8 percent jump (200 jobs), transportation and utilities with a 2.2 percent rise (200 jobs) and retail with a 1.6 percent increase (100 jobs).

State hiring led government sectors with an upward jump of 7.7 percent and the addition of 100 jobs.

Meanwhile, construction, education and healthcare remained relatively flat across the two-county area. Jobs in private services — financial, legal and other professional employers — dipped for the month by 1.2 percent compared to the same time last year.

The Chelan-Douglas civilian labor force fell 1.1 percent in November to 59,900, a loss of 660 people from the year before, as job-seekers likely withdrew from active searching or moved to find work elsewhere. The total labor force includes job hunters and the employed in the region.

In Okanogan County, the jobless rate fell to 9.1 percent, a 0.9 percent decrease from the same month last year. It’s the county’s 14th straight month of job improvement. Sectors showing gains were manufacturing (including fruit packing), retail and utilities with 160 total jobs added. Construction had a seasonal drop of 10.8 percent (90 jobs).

In Grant County, the unemployment rate dropped to 9.1 percent, a 0.3 percent decrease below November 2011. Information services, the sector that includes data center operations, jumped 13 percent (130 jobs) and manufacturing added 150 jobs for a 2.7 percent increase over November 2011.

Mike Irwin: 665-1179

Reach Mike Irwin at 509-665-1179 or . Read his blog Everyday Business. follow him on Twitter at @MikeIrwinWW.