Washington area unemployment rate dropped to 5.3% in October

This May 4, 2012 file photo shows President Barack Obama, center, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, right, meeting with students and their parents at Washington-Lee high school in Arlington, Va. Job growth was strongest in professional services and education and health services sectors. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais /AP)

The unemployment rate in the Washington region dipped to 5.3 percent in October, according to a Labor Department report released Wednesday, with the strongest job growth coming from the education and health services sector and the professional services industry.

The education and health services sector, which has shown solid growth throughout 2012, added 12,100 jobs between October 2012 and October 2011.

“It is a strength, and it’s the one that is performing consistently the best,” said Stephen S. Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University.

Although the professional services industry added 11,000 jobs during the same period, Fuller said the sector is underperforming by about 50 percent.

Of the 37,400 jobs added, 33,800 of them came from the private sector. The government sector added 3,600 jobs, but those were state- and local-level gains. The federal government shed 4,600 jobs, which Fuller said is cause for concern because many of those positions pay well.

“It contributes to this income compression that we see going on in the economy where we’re adding a higher proportion of lower-paying jobs” relative to higher-paying jobs, Fuller said.

Most other sectors saw modest increases, with construction adding 3,400 jobs, financial services adding 4,200 jobs and leisure and hospitality adding 2,000 jobs.

The retail sector lost 600 jobs, while manufacturing lost 700.

The Labor Department releases seasonally adjusted jobless rates for metropolitan areas, which allows for month-to-month comparisons. The number of job gains and losses are not seasonally adjusted, however, so these figures can only be compared on a year-over-year basis.

The Washington area unemployment rate is significantly lower than the national rate, which increased slightly in October to 7.9 percent. Still, job growth here is only moderate.

“It’s quite similar to what we observed in most of the nation, which is steady, grinding economic progress consistent with soft economic recovery,” said Anirban Basu, chief executive of Sage Policy Group, an economic consulting firm in Baltimore.

Jobless rates fell in 329 of 372 metropolitan areas. Rates rose in 37 areas and held steady in six. Yuma, Ariz., had the nation’s highest unemployment rate: 29.8 percent. The lowest jobless rate, 2.2 percent, was recorded 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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