Washington area unemployment dips in March

April 27, 2011

The Washington area’s unemployment rate edged down in March from February, showing steady job gains in the region, the Labor Department reported Wednesday.

The data also indicated that the economic recovery that began here several months ago with a turnaround in the job market is taking hold in most large metropolitan areas across the country.

The region’s March jobless rate was 5.8 percent, below February’s 5.9 percent level.

Labor Department figures for metropolitan areas are not seasonally adjusted, which means they are not corrected for fluctuating factors such as weather conditions that occur in certain months of the year. Thus, year-to-year data reflect unemployment trends more accurately than month-to-month numbers.

In the year ending in March, the region’s jobless rate fell nearly a full point — to 5.8 percent from 6.6 percent — while a net gain of 39,400 jobs was recorded.

Given the job gains, and that Washington is one of the few areas where home prices are rising, the local economy “will continue to recover strongly throughout the year,” Mohammad-Qamar Siddiqui, a senior manager at IHS Global Insight who follows the region, said in an e-mail.

The 39,400 jobs are far less than the 74,600 added from February 2010 to February this year. But analysts say that this figure was inflated because of the significant job loss that occurred during last year’s blizzard, which shuttered the federal government, schools and some retail outlets.

In February, the Washington area’s unemployment rate, not seasonally adjusted, fell to 5.9 percent, from 6.8 percent the year before.

The Washington area, which was bolstered during the recession by consistent hiring in the federal government and contracting sectors, was among the first regions to show net job gains. In the fall, the region led the nation in the number of jobs created over 12 months, but that is no longer the case. Most major metropolitan areas are also adding more jobs than they are losing.

Fourteen of 15 major metropolitan areas have positive outlooks, said John McClain, deputy director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University. “The only one that’s not is Atlanta,” he said.

Included in the list of large metropolitan areas that added jobs are Chicago, with 44,800; New York, 39,200; Los Angeles, 26,000; and Detroit, 6,100. Overall, the unemployment rate dropped in 317 of 372 metropolitan areas, according to the data.

“That’s a good sign that the national economy is growing,” McClain said, adding that from March of last year to this March, an increase of about 1.3 million jobs was tallied in the United States. “It’s probably been four or five years since [nearly] all the metro areas have shown growth.”

Sectors with gains in the Washington area were professional and business services, up 13,400; government, 10,100; retail, 9,400; leisure and hospitality, 8,300; and education and health, 700.

Industries that lost jobs included construction, down 2,400; information services, 1,300; and financial services, 800. Construction of multifamily buildings has been picking up in the region, and analysts said they expect the sector to recover early next year, when development of single-family houses resumes.

The region’s non-seasonally-adjusted March unemployment rate was well below the national level. The U.S. rate in March was 9.2 percent, down from 10.2 percent last year.

The El Centro, Calif., area had the highest unemployment rate: 24.6 percent. Lincoln, Neb., had the lowest: 4.1 percent.

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