D.C. area jobless rate unchanged at 5.3 percent

The Washington area unemployment rate held steady at 5.3 percent in April, but the region saw its best private-sector job growth in any one-year period since June 2012.

The region added 35,700 private-sector jobs between April 2012 and April 2013, according to a report released Wednesday by the U.S. Labor Department. The greatest gains came from the same industries that have lately been the region’s key pillars for growth. The leisure and hospitality industry added 9,800 jobs, more than any other sector. Local restaurants and bars say they have been hiring as business picks up at their establishments.

The professional services industry, which employs more workers in this region than any other sector, added 9,000 jobs.

Paul Villella, chief executive of Reston-based staffing firm HireStrategy, said his company has recently seen an uptick from companies in this sector looking to hire, particularly those that do not specialize in services for the federal government.

“Commercial seems to be not soaring, but increasing,” Villella said.

The education and health services sector added 8,600 positions, while the financial activities sector added 5,400.

The Labor Department does not seasonally adjust the numbers of job gains and losses, so only year-over-year comparisons can be made for those figures. This means that it is difficult to determine from this data set whether recent automatic federal spending cuts have been a drag on the Washington area job market.

Still, James Bohnaker, associate economist at Moody’s Analytics, said he hasn’t seen many signs that the cuts have had a dramatic impact.

“I think the sequestration isn’t going to be quite as bad as a lot of people had feared, at least in terms of direct job losses,” Bohnaker said. “The reason for that is that people were already planning for this last year.”

The government sector added 5,800 jobs, despite a loss of 4,700 positions in the federal government subcategory. The federal government has been steadily shedding jobs in the region as its budgets have shrunk.

A few other sectors showed slight increases, although the gains were small enough that they didn’t contribute significantly to overall job growth. The retail sector, which has posted job losses in the last several unemployment reports, added 700 positions. The construction industry added 600 jobs, while the information sector added 200.

The manufacturing industry shed 400 positions.

In total, 41,000 jobs were added in the Washington region. The region’s jobless rate remains far below the national unemployment rate, which fell to 7.5 percent in April, its lowest level in four years.

Unemployment rates fell in 276 metropolitan areas and increased in 78 in April. Rates held steady in 18 areas. The nation’s highest unemployment rate, 30.3 percent, was in the border town of Yuma, Ariz. The lowest rate, 3 percent, was recorded in Midland, Tex.

Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economics news.
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