The unemployment rate for the District improved slightly between December and January, dropping from 9.4 to 9.2 percent, but city officials gloomily predicted a rise among the jobless during February.

"Under normal circumstances we would applaud this decline," said Ivanhoe Donaldson, acting director of the Department of Employment Services. "However, because of the economy and the more recent impact of budget cuts and federal reductions in force, February is likely to show an increase."

This January was the first time in 13 years that the first month of the year showed an unemployment drop. Generally, unemployment is higher because a large number of workers hired part time for the holiday season have been let go. However, because of the recession and depressed consumer spending, fewer workers were hired between November and December so fewer lost part-time jobs in January, said Lawrence Thurston, an economist with the employment services department.

In addition, severely cold weather this winter prevented persons from looking for work who normally would show up in unemployment statistics, Thurston said.

The number of available jobs in the District between December and January decreased by 6,500. During the same time, jobs in the metropolitan area declined by 34,600, which is less than the usual decline, Thurston said, because of lower-than-usual seasonal hires in the U.S. Post Office, retail stores and restaurants "in anticipation of Christmas shoppers."

Locally, holiday sales were the second poorest on record in terms of growth from previous years. Retail sales in the city were worse than those in the suburbs.

Most of the job reductions between December and January were in government, which was down by 10,400. Manufacturing was the only area showing no job losses. The District lost 12,200 jobs over the year, and the metropolitan area lost 17,000 jobs.

Private industry employment increased overall, by 10,900 over the year, Thurston said, "but the net effect was a loss." About 28,000 government jobs were lost over the year, he said.

In December, 29,300 District residents were out of work compared with 28,200 in January. Employment also declined during that period from 284,100 to 276,000, city officials said.

The Washington area last year suffered its worst economic performance in the past five years, topped by a 15.7 percent jump in unemployment, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.