D.C. area unemployment up from year ago, remains lowest among large metro areas
Wednesday, September 29, 2010; 8:17 PM
The Washington area's unemployment rate remained the lowest among major U.S. metropolitan areas last month, despite a one-tenth percentage point increase, to 6.2 percent, compared with August 2009, according to data released Wednesday.
The area's monthly jobless rate, which is not seasonally adjusted, dropped slightly in August from the month before.
The August-to-August uptick continued a trend seen in July, when the rate of 6.3 percent was up from 6.2 percent the year before, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In contrast, the national jobless rate for August dropped to 9.5 percent, down from 9.6 percent the year before, after remaining unchanged for July.
Economists see a dichotomy in the region's recovery: Even as the area experienced a year-to-year net gain of 20,000 jobs - with steady growth in federal government and professional and business services - the number of employed people during the 12-month period fell by 5,000, and the number of unemployed people climbed by 1,500.
To experts, this is more evidence that many job openings are being filled by people who have jobs or who are moving here from outside the region, not by unemployed people in the region.
The unemployment rate is "sort of fluffing around; it did improve from July," said John McClain, senior fellow at the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University. "Likely, the skills needed for those jobs [in federal government and contracting] don't match very well with the skills of unemployed people. We need to do a better job of training our workforce to match what jobs we have."
Washington had the lowest August unemployment rate among the 49 U.S. metropolitan areas with at least 1 million people, followed by Oklahoma City, at 6.3 percent. The major metropolitan region with the highest rate was Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif., at 14.8 percent.
Among large and small metropolitan areas, El Centro, Calif., had the highest rate, 30.2 percent. The area with the lowest was Bismarck, N.D., at 3.1 percent.
The Washington area job market moved into positive territory in April, when it began adding more jobs than it lost. That month, there was a net gain of 8,000 jobs from April 2009. The numbers mostly have been growing since then, with year-to-year gains of 16,000 in May, 22,000 in June and 40,000 in July.
Most sectors in the region showed job growth in August. Professional and business services added 12,000 jobs, compared with August 2009; the federal government, 18,000; and education and health services, 5,000.
Even sectors that were hit hard in the downturn are rebounding. Leisure and hospitality had an August-to-August net gain of 11,000 jobs, and retail gained 9,000 jobs.
Hhgregg, an appliance and electronics retailer, hired 600 people in July and August for 10 Washington area stores that it opened this month. Hhgregg officials said they hired numerous former Circuit City employees, who lost their jobs when the retailer went out of business last year.
"There are a lot of talented individuals who [were] not employed or [were] underemployed, and we were able to hire those individuals," said Jeff Pearson, hhgregg's vice president of marketing.
Construction in the region lost 1,000 jobs from August to August, but that was a big improvement from much of last year. "We are about to turn the corner in construction," and the numbers might become positive in the September job report, McClain said."That might bring down the unemployment rate in that unskilled sector."
Others said uncertainty still looms. Anirban Basu, chairman and chief executive of Sage Policy Group, a Baltimore economic and policy consulting firm, said the momentum in the region could reverse if consumers lose confidence next year. He said he is especially concerned that the region hasn't found enough jobs for its large base of low-skilled unemployed workers.
"We have been observing for a few decades now the bifurcation of society between haves and have-nots. The downturn magnifies the bifurcation by reducing demand for lower-skilled positions, while the economy disproportionately continued to provide jobs for the educated and skilled," Basu said.
Now there is a large "population of people depending on public assistance," he added. There "needs to be a community-wide effort to help people transition from dependence to independence."