Unemployment in the Washington region was only 2.8 percent in April, down from 3.4 percent a year earlier and less than half the 5.4 percent national jobless rate in April. There were 82,279 unemployed people in the region in April, compared with 96,774 a year earlier.

But looking only at the overall unemployment rate can mask shifts in the labor market. People only count as unemployed if they lack a job but are pursuing one. Sometimes the jobless rate drops not because more people are working, but because more people have given up looking for work.

The numbers behind the low Washington area jobless rate, though, are good reason to think the rate is real and not a reflection of people giving up out of desperation. That is because the other side of the ledger has risen: The numbers show lots more people employed.

The number of Washington area residents with jobs increased substantially for the year ending in April, by 86,541 to 2.8 million. That suggests even more robust local job growth than a more commonly used measure, which is based on a survey of businesses and counts 77,300 new jobs in the past year.

-- Neil Irwin