D.C. outpaces nation's other metro areas in job growth

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Washington area led the nation in employment growth with 56,000 new jobs created over the 12-month period that ended in September, according to federal government data released Wednesday.

The gains were fueled by private-sector hiring and drove the region's unemployment rate down three-tenths of a point from a year earlier, to 5.9 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"It shows job growth is nipping away at the unemployment rolls," said Stephen S. Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University. "We had quite a bit of job growth in a wide range of sectors, including retail."

The numbers point to the reversal of a recent rise in unemployment. In August, the area's jobless rate rose to 6.2 percent, from 6.1 percent the year before. The rates are not seasonally adjusted.

The drop in regional unemployment tracked with the national rate, which fell to 9.2 percent from 9.5 percent. Those rates also are not seasonally adjusted. On a seasonally adjusted basis, the national rate is 9.6 percent.

The 56,000 net new jobs are the most created in a 12-month period in the region since 2005, Fuller said. The area far surpassed other regions that gained jobs, including Dallas (up 29,000), Boston (up 21,000) and Houston (up 3,000).

"This is a reconfirmation of the general health of this market relative to a lot of other parts of the country that have higher unemployment rates," said Peter Muoio, senior principal of Maximus Advisors, a New York-based economic and real estate research firm.

The federal government and the professional and business sector each added a net of 16,000 jobs from September to September. During the past few months, the jobless rate had remained steady or even risen, despite gains in those sectors. Analysts said the high-paying, high-skilled jobs being created were largely going to people moving here from outside the region, rather than to those on the unemployment rolls. Now, analysts say, there's evidence that more lower-skilled, lower-paying jobs are being added, pulling people out of unemployment.

The leisure and hospitality sector gained a net of 13,000 new jobs, and retail a net of 9,000. Fuller said the expansion reflects the hiring of full-time staff to accommodate sales increases - not temporary workers for the holidays.

Richmond-based CarMax said Wednesday that it plans to hire 1,200 new salespeople and service technicians over the next several months at its used-car stores across the country. That would include about 120 hires at nine Washington area stores.

The move is fueled largely by growing demand, said Britt Farrar, a CarMax spokeswoman.

"Certainly the auto industry was hit hard, and what we did was slowed growth," Farrar said. "This year, we're seeing record sales."

The data showed economic improvement across the country. Most metro regions - 212 of 372 - had declines in unemployment. Fewer had rates above 10 percent - 104 regions in September, compared with 120 the year before.

If the pace of hiring in the Washington region continues, Fuller said, the area could replace the 63,000 jobs lost during the downturn by this time next year.

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