Metropolitan Washington is experiencing a fairly robust recovery from the recent recession despite a slow increase in overall retail sales, according to government economic data published yesterday.

Although area unemployment increased in February, the total number of jobs was up more than 30,000 from the same month in 1975, the D.C. Department of Manpower reported.

Areawide retail sales in January, meanwhile, were up 4 per cent from the same month in 1976 to $742 million. By the same measures - not adjusted for seasonal variations or holidays - nationwide retail sales in January were 5 per cent above the year earlier levels.

Retailers have noted that the early months of 1976 were exceptionally strong here for sales volume and indicated that it will be difficult to surpass the year-earlier retail activity.

In a separate report on the state of Virginia's economy, College of William and Mary forecaster Leland E. Traywick said business indicators last month showed a "significant improvement over January." The volume of bank checking account transactions - a good measure of retail and wholesale trade - was up 33 per cent from the some month last year.

The area jobs data published yesterday reflected only a slight impact on the local economy from layoffs during the severely cold winter weather.Private sector employment usually is flat at this time of year and that tendency was reinforced by the weather conditions, according to the D.C. agency, which compiles employment data for all area governments.

All of the increase in jobs between January and February was attributed to government work - mostly at the state and local levels. Total employment was estimated at 1,374,000 in February, or 2,900 above the previous month.

Unemployment in the metropolitan area increased to 4.9 per cent from 4.5 per cent in January, seasonally adjusted for changes in employment patterns. Nationwide, the rate of joblessness was 7.5 per cent in February; national data for March will be published later this week.

The District remained the center of greatest unemployment in the area, with 8.7 per cent of the work force (an estimated 28,500 persons) looking for jobs in February. A year earlier, the D.C. unemployment rate was 9.2 per cent (30,400 people).

Of the 30,000 new jobs created in the local economy over the past year, most were in the retail (8,000) and government (7,000) sectors.

The 4 per cent rise in January retail sales here, reported by the Commerce Department, surpassed the sales growth in metropolitan New York (2 per cent) and Chicago (3 per cent), and was in contrast with a 5 per cent decline for Baltimore. In general, sales increased at a more rapid rate on the West Coast and in the Southwest, which were not affected by the bitter winter weather.

Areawide department store sales in January were up 2 per cent from a years ago to $83.7 million but downtown Washington department store sales fell by 6 per cent to $5.9 million. In the eight other central cities surveyed monthly by the government, department store sales also declined - by the same 6 per cent rate in Chicago and Oakland; by 9 per cent in downtown Los Angeles; 10 per cent in Cleveland and Pittsburgh; 14 per cent in Baltimore, 17 per cent in Philadelphia and 21 per cent in Boston.

Statewide retail sales in Virginia during February were up 3.1 per cent from last year. Traywick reported. New car sales and building permits declined, reflecting the cold weather, and Virginia unemployment rose to 6.8 per cent in February from 6.2 per cent in January.