D.C. area unemployment rate climbed in October during government shutdown

The Washington area’s unemployment rate climbed to 5.6 percent from 5.4 percent in October, the Labor Department reported Thursday, as the local economy saw some of its most anemic job growth since the recession.

The region added 20,800 jobs in the one-year period ended in October, and the increase in unemployed residents was the largest recorded since 2010. Economists say the weakness in the report likely reflects some drag from the 16-day partial government shutdown.

“I wouldn’t point to this as a deterioration of the trajectory of the recovery,” said Stephen Fuller, the economist who directs the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University.

The professional services sector, which includes government contractors, shed jobs for the first time since 2010. It lost 2,400 positions. The federal government, meanwhile, shed 8,100 jobs.

The strongest job growth came from the leisure and hospitality sector, which gained 15,500 positions. That industry has consistently been a bright spot in regional labor reports this year as the area welcomed a burst of restaurants and bars. But there is a soft underbelly to the relative strength of the job market in this industry, because those positions tend to be ­low-paying.

With this latest round of data, “I think we’re reinforcing this growing income disparity that has characterized the recovery,” Fuller said.

Another industry that kept up solid job gains in October was financial services, which added 6,600 positions. The sector this year experienced its strongest job growth in a decade as the housing market improved, creating more job opportunities for real estate agents and mortgage financiers.

The retail sector added 4,100 jobs, while education and health services gained 3,100 positions. The construction industry lost 2,500 jobs, while the information sector shed 1,500 jobs.

The Labor Department releases seasonally adjusted jobless rates for metropolitan areas, which allows those figures to be compared on a month-to-month basis. However, the numbers of job gains and losses are not seasonally adjusted, so data can only be compared year over year. The Thursday report was originally scheduled to be released Nov. 27, but it was delayed after the government shutdown put the Labor Department’s data processing on hold.

The unemployment rate in the Washington region remains far below the national rate, which ticked up to 7.3 percent in October as the economy added 204,000 jobs.

Unemployment rates fell in 280 areas and increased in 79 in October. Rates remained unchanged in 13 areas. The border town of Yuma, Ariz., posted the nation’s highest jobless rate, 31.9 percent. The lowest rate, 1.7 percent, was in Bismarck, N.D.

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 economic news.

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