Employment figures released yesterday provided the clearest evidence yet that the Washington-area economy is slowing down.
According to the D.C. Department of Employment Services, the Washington-area economy added 36,900 jobs from April 1989 to April 1990 -- a significant drop from the 60,000 new jobs recorded last year, and the peak pace of 100,000 new jobs a year set during the frenzied expansion of the mid-1980s.
"Over the year, growth has been dropping off," said Richard Groner, chief of labor market information for the Department of Employment Services. "If you want to call the economy soft, you can call it soft. There's no doubt we're in the process of slowing."
Complementing the new-jobs figures were the unemployment figures for April. In the District itself, the jobless rate increased by two-tenths of a percentage point, from 5.6 percent in March to 5.8 percent in April. It now exceeds the comparable national unemployment rate of 5.2 percent.
At the same time, unemployment in the entire region went down a bit, from 2.6 percent in March to 2.5 percent in April, on the strength of a dip in the jobless rate in suburban Maryland and Virginia.
Despite the slowdown in job growth, Washington continued to have one of the healthiest urban economies in the nation. A spokesperson for the Greater Washington Board of Trade called yesterday's figures "another indication of the strength and stability of the greater Washington economy."
But the jobs figures showed pockets of weakness that seemed consistent with anecdotal and statistical reports of trouble in the area's real estate, construction and defense industries.
Since April 1989, for instance, the number of construction jobs in the area has declined by 7,800. From 1982 to 1989, the number of people employed in construction in this area doubled.
The rise in unemployment in the District came about because 5,400 fewer District residents were employed in April than the previous month.
The District jobless rate is one-half of a percentage point higher than it was in April 1989, when it was 5.3 percent, according to the department's survey of households. The figures are not adjusted for seasonal variations.
Unemployment is calculated in two ways: a survey of homes and a survey of places of employment. The household survey found 13,400 fewer people working in the District in April 1990 than in April 1990, for total employment of 282,000. Most of that decline came from people who dropped out of the labor force -- they were neither employed nor looking for work.
The suburbs are considerably healthier. The unemployment rate in Falls Church is 1 percent, the lowest rate in the state of Virginia. Overall, the 2 percent jobless rate for the suburbs is low enough that just about anyone who wants work can find it.