Washington region’s unemployment rate holds at 5.5 percent

The Washington region’s unemployment rate held steady in April at 5.5 percent for the third consecutive month, according to Labor Department data released Wednesday, despite continued momentum in the combined health and education sector.

Of the 3.2 million people in the region’s labor force last month, 175,916 were unemployed, up slightly from 175,785 in March. Still, the area’s jobless rate remained well below the national average of 8.1 percent.

The region added 34,500 jobs in the 12 months ending in April, thanks largely to surges in education and health services, up 16,000, and leisure and hospitality, up 8,000.

Meanwhile, government, financial activities, mining, lodging and construction all posted more modest gains during the 12-month period, and retail employment declined by 4,000 workers.

Compared with April 2011, unemployment was lower last month in all but 30 of the 372 metropolitan areas canvassed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with rates higher in 25 areas and unchanged in five. Only one had an increase greater than a full percentage point, Washington state’s Kennewick-Pasco-Richland area, at 1.4 percentage points.

Ten metropolitan areas reported jobless rates higher than 15 percent. Nine of them were in California, led by El Centro, at 26.8 percent. Bismarck, N.D., had the lowest rate, 2.8 percent.

J.D. Harrison covers startups, small business and entrepreneurship, with a focus on public policy, and he manages the Post's On Small Business blog.
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