D.C. area jobless rate rises again as labor force grows

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 29, 2010; A20

Unemployment in the Washington region rose to 6.4 percent in June from 6 percent the previous month, according to federal government data released Wednesday, highlighting the fragility of the recovery in the local labor market.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics data contrasted with numbers it released last week on the District, Maryland and Virginia that showed their unemployment rates had dropped in June. The difference is attributable in part to Wednesday's data not taking in the entire states of Maryland and Virginia.

At the same time, experts say the Washington area's relatively positive labor market has been drawing job seekers from outside the region faster than it has been adding jobs.

Experts also say that June is typically the month with the highest unemployment. That is when college and high school students flood the labor force looking for summer jobs. The BLS defines the labor force as working-age people who are either employed or unemployed and looking for work. A surge of job seekers can push the unemployment rate up, and a surge of long-term unemployed people who stop looking can push it down.

Unemployment had been dropping steadily in the region until May. But, experts say, most of the jobs are going to newcomers to the labor force -- recent college graduates and recently transplanted residents -- and not to long-term unemployed people.

"The beneficiaries of the recovery aren't people who were unemployed," said Stephen S. Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University. The jobs are being "filled by new entrants to the workforce who are younger, cheaper and better educated."

Anirban Basu, chairman and chief executive of Sage Policy Group, a Baltimore economic and policy consulting firm, said the surge in job seekers is a reflection of optimism. Still, he added, that the phenomenon likely will continue to boost the jobless rate for a few months.

"It's frustrating to know employers are not yet hiring at a pace sufficient to accommodate the new job seekers," Basu said. "The growth in the number of job seekers will outpace the number of jobs and unemployment may trend higher."

Fuller said the region experienced a net gain of 15,000 jobs from June 2009 to June 2010.

The sectors that gained jobs included the federal government (up 22,000); health and education (up 2,000) and retail (up 11,000). The sectors that lost jobs included business and professional services (down 2,000); state and local government (down 9,000); construction (down 3,000); and financial services (down 4,000).

The El Centro, Calif., metropolitan area had the highest unemployment rate, 27.6 percent. Bismarck, N.D., had the lowest, 3.8 percent.

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