This time last year, unemployment in the District was soaring. Every month, the proportion of D.C. residents who could not find a job but wanted one seemed to rise despite an economic resurgence in the city.

Not anymore. In recent months, unemployment has been falling in the city even faster than it rose in 2003 and 2004.

The Labor Department reported Friday that unemployment in the District was 6.4 percent in August, down from 6.7 percent in July and 8.4 percent in August 2004. Unemployment rose slightly in neighboring states last month, to 4.4 percent in Maryland from 4.3 percent in July, and to 3.7 percent in Virginia from 3.5 percent in July.

So what is behind the stunning improvement in the District? It is hard to know for sure, but here are a couple of possibilities.

One is that the spike in unemployment was a statistical aberration, and unemployment in the District has been fairly steady all along. That could result from the relatively small sample size of the survey on which the data are based; about 977 households are surveyed.

Or perhaps the District's surging economy has finally benefited a wider cross-section of D.C. residents. The number of unemployed people fell from about 25,000 in August 2004 to slightly more than 19,000 last month. It could be that 6,000 D.C. residents who were down at the heels a year ago found work.

The September numbers will reflect the impact on unemployment, if any, from the hundreds of Hurricane Katrina evacuees moving to the region.

-- Neil Irwin