D.C. area jobless rate dipped to 5.4 percent in November

The jobless rate in the Washington area dipped to 5.4 percent in November, from 5.6 percent the month before, the Labor Department reported Tuesday, although the region lost jobs in sectors that are typically the backbone of its economy and posted only tepid growth in others.

The November jobs data hew to a pattern that was seen in the area throughout 2013: The federal government, which employs about 366,000 workers locally, continued to shed jobs as agency budgets were trimmed. Between November 2012 and November 2013, 9,500 federal positions were lost in the region.

The professional services sector, which has about 707,000 workers in the area, was also affected by the federal cuts, with contractors scrambling to streamline or reposition their businesses to gird themselves against reductions in spending. In the 12-month period that ended in November, that sector lost 200 jobs.

Economists and local business leaders said the professional services sector is likely to be on better footing this year now that Congress has reached a deal that would fund the government for two years.

Robert Peck, director of consulting for the Southeast region at Gensler, a design and architectural firm, said that “2013 was such a bizarre, bad year in that sector, that I think anything that approaches coming back to normal will make people feel better, which will make people invest more.”


Analysts also said professional services could get a lift this year from a burgeoning technology industry that is expanding beyond government-focused cybersecurity work.

“That really is beginning to gain some traction and is probably still undersold as an important driver” of the local economy, said Mark Muro, director of policy for the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution.

Overall, the Washington area added 24,100 jobs between November 2012 and November 2013. About two-thirds of the gains were in the leisure and hospitality sector, which added 16,200 positions. This sector has often led the region in job growth lately.

Elliott Ferguson, chief executive at tourism marketing group Destination DC, said he expects the industry to continue its solid performance this year.

“The 60 cranes that are up in the air in Washington, D.C., this brings such a huge level of excitement,” Ferguson said. As prospective engines of economic development, Ferguson pointed to CityCenterDC, a massive mixed-use development set to open downtown, and the Marriott Marquis Washington, D.C., which will the largest hotel in the city. The hotel alone is expected to create at least 600 jobs in the District.

The next-largest source of job growth was the financial activities sector, which added 6,900 positions from November to November. The retail sector added 3,500 jobs. Education and health services, the region’s biggest job creator in 2012, added just 1,900 positions.

The information sector lost 1,700 jobs during that period, and the construction industry shed 500.

The national unemployment rate for November, reported early last month, fell to 7 percent, from 7.3 percent, as the economy added 203,000 jobs.

The Labor Department releases seasonally adjusted jobless rates for metropolitan areas, which allows for month-to-month comparisons. But the numbers of job gains and losses are not seasonally adjusted, so those monthly figures can only be compared year over year.

Sarah Halzack is a reporter and Web editor for Capital Business. She covers the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She occasionally writes for other sections at the Post, most frequently in the form of dance reviews, dance features, book reviews and obituaries.
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