Washington jobless rate down to 8.5 percent

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Washington state is still adding jobs, but the growth in employment isn't as robust as it was a few months ago, officials said Wednesday.

The state Employment Security Department said the unemployment rate dipped down to 8.5 percent in September from 8.6 percent in August. The jobless figure stood at 9 percent a year ago.

Officials said the state added about 1,200 jobs in September, meaning the average number of jobs added in the last three months has been about 3,000. That's down from a few months ago, when the state had a couple months of over 10,000 jobs added.

Joe Elling, chief labor economist for Employment Security, said it's important to focus on long-term trends, and he says the trend over the past 31 months shows an increasing rate of job growth.

"It's an environment where we're experiencing steady growth at a rate that is agonizingly slow or slower than previous recoveries," Elling said. "That's why it's harder to get the unemployment rate to move back down."

By just looking at the private sector, the state actually lost jobs last year, with cuts most prominent in manufacturing and retail trade. The government sector added some 2,700 jobs, which officials attributed to higher numbers of education jobs at the beginning of the school year. The leisure and hospitality industry added some 3,900 jobs.

Officials say a little under 300,000 people were unemployed and looking for work in September, with about 126,000 claiming unemployment benefits.

The national jobless rate was also 9 percent last year, but it has fallen more quickly to 7.8 percent.