The jobless rate in the Washington area held steady at 5.3 percent in December, according to a Labor Department report released Wednesday that offered a fresh round of evidence that the local job market is improving but not quickly enough to significantly boost the region’s recovery.
Job growth in the one-year period ending in December remained mostly on the same trajectory as it did throughout 2012. The largest increase came from the education and health services sector, which added 13,300 positions. The professional services industry, which includes the region’s hordes of government contractors, added 9,500 jobs.
Throughout 2012, health care consistently saw greater year-over-year job growth than professional services, a development that has mixed implications for the local economy. While it is a sign that the Washington area economy has become more diverse, the health-care jobs being added tend to pay less than those in the professional services industry.
The federal government lost 3,400 jobs, even as the larger government sector gained 8,900 positions. The difference suggests that the gains are coming from state and municipal governments.
James Bohnaker, an associate economist with Moody’s Analytics, said this relative strength in local government hiring is consistent with patterns observed in other parts of the country in which jurisdictions that trimmed their workforces in 2010 and 2011 are gradually picking up hiring again.
“Virginia and Maryland, especially, are pretty well positioned to get back to so-called normal operations,” Bohnaker said.
Further gains came from the financial sector, which added 4,200 jobs, and the leisure and hospitality sector, which added 1,800 jobs.
The construction industry also added more jobs, with 1,800 new positions. Stephen S. Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, predicts that this sector will continue to be a bright spot for the regional economy in 2013 and beyond. Fuller expects that the strengthening housing market will increase demand for new projects, creating jobs.
Losses were seen in the trade and transportation sector, which shed 8,100 positions; the retail industry, which lost 5,500 positions; and the information sector, which shed 500 positions.
In total, the region added 30,200 jobs between December 2011 and December 2012. More than 21,000 of those positions were in the private sector.
The Labor Department releases seasonally adjusted jobless rates for metropolitan areas, which enable month-to-month comparisons. The number of job gains and losses are not seasonally adjusted, so these figures can only be compared on a year-over-year basis.
The unemployment rate in the Washington region is well below the national rate, which remained unchanged at 7.8 percent in December. The government will release national unemployment figures for January on Friday.
Jobless rates dropped in 290 metropolitan areas, rose in 68 and held steady in 14. The nation’s lowest jobless rate, 3.1 percent, was recorded in the western Texas city of Midland. The highest rate, 27.3 percent, was registered in Yuma, Ariz.