March 20, 2011

Region’s unemployment down in sign of recovery

The unemployment rate in the Washington region dropped in January to 6.1 percent from 6.9 percent a year before, according to U.S. Labor Department data released Friday, showing stronger job growth in most sectors but lingering problems in state and local government.

The decrease in the not-seasonally adjusted rate was higher in January than in December, when it fell to 5.7 percent from 6.2 percent. The difference in the January and December number should not be interpreted to mean that unemployment worsened during that time; the data have not been corrected for seasonal fluctuations and should not be compared, experts say.

Overall, the economy showed strong signs of recovery, with employment rising and unemployment decreasing. The labor force grew by about 10,000, while the number of unemployed people dropped to 186,400 from 210,000 a year ago.

“The economy is continuing to recover, albeit slowly,” said Benjamin Orr, research analyst at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “This is steady progress, and I think we should be pleased.”

Metropolitan Washington’s 6.1 percent jobless rate is still well below the not-seasonally adjusted national level of 9.8 percent for January, which dropped from 10.6 percent the year before. During the 12-month period ending in January, the region showed a net gain of 40,800 jobs, according to Labor Department data analyzed by the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University. The center projects that the region will gain 48,000 jobs this year then drop slightly to 44,000 next year.

While the region continued adding jobs in the federal government and professional and business services sector during the economic downturn, it suffered heavy losses in most other industries. But over the past six months or so, leisure and hospitality and retail sectors have been gaining more jobs than they lost. Construction has broken even for the first time since the downturn, and local economists are forecasting sizable job gains this year. SOURCE: Washington Post

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