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D.C. area's April unemployment down to 5.9%; net job gain of 5,800 tops in U.S.

Stephen S. Fuller of the Center for Regional Analysis:
Stephen S. Fuller of the Center for Regional Analysis: "The losses are shrinking, and we're getting more gains." (Andrea Bruce/the Washington Post)
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By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 3, 2010

Unemployment in the Washington area dropped substantially in April, according to government data released Wednesday, evidence to some local economists that recovery is taking hold in the private sector even though the number of jobs created was lower than expected.

In April, the region's not-seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate was 5.9 percent, compared with 6.6 percent in March, according to the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The region gained a net 5,800 jobs during the 12 months ending in April. Local economists had predicted that the increase would be as high as 20,000. Still, 5,800 represented the largest net gain of jobs among major U.S. metropolitan areas and marked the first time since October 2008 that the Washington region added more jobs than it lost.

"The losses are shrinking, and we're getting more gains," said Stephen S. Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University. "It's certainly a strong indicator of the spreading recovery."

Throughout the recession, the federal government and Washington area health and education sectors continued hiring as most other industries hemorrhaged jobs. But momentum began shifting during the past few months. The number of cuts slowed, even though overall, more jobs were being lost than gained. Then the retail and leisure and hospitality sectors turned positive.

In April, retail and hospitality added to their net job gains. And, a category called "other services," which includes mainly nonprofit associations, turned positive by adding a net 2,000 jobs. Professional and business services gained a net 3,000 jobs.

Construction (minus 11,000) and state and local government (minus 8,000) were among the few sectors that experienced net job losses.

Layoff data tracked by a Silicon Valley-based online service called Telonu also illustrate the growing strength of the job market in the Washington-Baltimore regions.

During the first five months of this year, the number of losses declined 90 percent compared with the same period in 2009. This year, the company said it recorded 4,226 layoffs in the region, down from 39,903 in the same period of 2009.

Major layoffs in early 2009 occurred at General Dynamics, Circuit City, Qimonda and Black & Decker, Telonu officials said. But so far this year, according to the company, the only large-scale layoff -- involving 1,300 people -- occurred at Boston Scientific in Ellicott City.

The decline in the Washington region "is better than the decline overall in the U.S.," said Barry Abdul, chairman of Telonu, adding that the number of layoffs decreased 73 percent across the country. "The economy [in the region] looks like it's recovering faster than the rest of the U.S."

The metropolitan area with the nation's lowest unemployment rate was Bismarck, N.D., at 3.6 percent. El Centro, Calif., had the highest, at 27.9 percent.

The government initially reported the March Washington metro unemployment rate as 6.7 percent, but in the latest release adjusted it to 6.6 percent.

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