The unemployment rate in the Washington metropolitan area rose in January to 5.4 percent from 5.3 percent, even as the region added 41,900 jobs.
The largest job growth, according to a Friday report from the Labor Department, came from the leisure and hospitality sector, which added 11,200 jobs from January 2012 to January 2013. That industry’s gains eclipsed the 9,600 jobs added in the education and health services industry, which last year was the region’s primary engine for job growth. It also surpassed the professional services sector, which added 8,700 jobs during the same period.
The January data was not the only sign of unexpected strength in the region’s leisure and hospitality hiring. The Labor Department released revisions this week of 2012 metropolitan area jobs data, which showed that the sector added 9,800 jobs last year, a big jump over the 1,800 job gains that were initially recorded. The fresh numbers show that the sector added more jobs last year than the professional services industry, which has typically fueled the regional economy.
Stephen Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, said that hiring at leisure and hospitality businesses is likely attributable to residents spending money at bars, restaurants and other recreation outposts rather than to any bump in tourism or conference and convention activity.
While 32,100 of the region’s job gains came from the private sector, another 9,800 came from the government sector.
The federal government subcategory lost 3,500 positions during the same period, suggesting that the gains came from state- and municipal-level governments.
Fuller said these employers are finally getting back to pre-recession job strategies after years of working on shoestring budgets.
“As they get right-sized, I see that growing not quite so strongly. That looks out of scale right now,” Fuller said.
Other sectors that saw job gains include financial activities, which added 4,700 positions, and construction, which added 1,400 positions.
The retail sector lost 2,300 jobs.
The Labor Department releases seasonally adjusted unemployment rates for metropolitan areas, which allow for month-to-month comparisons. The number of job gains and losses, however, are not seasonally adjusted, so only year-over-year comparisons can be made for these figures.
The jobless rate in the Washington region remains below the national rate, which was 7.9 percent in January and fell to 7.7 percent in February.
Unemployment rates fell in 227 of the 372 areas that the Labor Department tracks. Rates increased in 124 areas and held steady in 21 areas. For the second straight month, the nation’s lowest unemployment was recorded in Midland, Texas, where the jobless rate was 3.4 percent. The highest unemployment, 26.5 percent, was in Yuma, Ariz.