The Washington area’s unemployment rate dipped to 5.3 percent in March, according to a report released Wednesday by the Labor Department, as the leisure and hospitality industry again posted the region’s strongest job growth.
That sector added 11,400 jobs between March 2012 and March 2013. Analysts say the job growth in this industry is largely a result of a surge in business at area restaurants and bars.
In the sectors that have traditionally been the strongholds of the regional economy — government and professional services — job growth was steady but not strong enough to accelerate the recovery, similar to the past several local jobs reports.
The government sector added 6,000 jobs. The federal government subcategory, however, continued to shed jobs. Facing tightened budgets, the federal government lost 2,900 jobs between March 2012 and March 2013. The professional services industry, however, which includes this area’s legions of government contractors, added 7,000 jobs.
Because the Labor Department does not seasonally adjust the numbers of job increases and losses, those figures can only be compared on a year-over-year basis. So the report does not offer many clues as to whether the automatic federal spending cuts that went into effect March 1 had any impact on the local labor market.
But some local recruiting professionals say the cuts, known as the sequester, have affected how workers and job-seekers in the contracting industry view government work.
“What I’m hearing now is: ‘I don’t think the government is the right place to be looking. What have you got in the private sector?’ ” said Kathy Lavinder, executive director of SI Placement, a Bethesda-based firm that specializes in recruiting for information-security jobs.
The Washington area added 36,100 jobs between March 2012 and March 2013, including 30,100 positions in the private sector. Among the sectors that saw job growth were education and health services, which added 8,500 positions, and construction, which gained 2,300 positions. The financial activities sector added 5,600 jobs, its largest one-year gain since 2004-2005.
“This represents the unwinding of the housing downturn, during which many mortgage bankers lost their jobs, along with many other financial service professionals,” said Anirban Basu, chief executive of Sage Policy Group, an economic consulting firm in Baltimore. “The housing market is now rebounding quite briskly . . . and there is now growing demand for financial services professionals.”
At Chantilly-based real estate firm Long & Foster, chief operating officer Jeffrey Detwiler said five to 15 workers have been added in each of company’s business lines over the last six months.
“The housing market is absolutely at the crux of what we do. And the housing market is fundamentally much stronger today than it was just a year ago,” Detwiler said.
Long & Foster provides training programs for those seeking a real estate license. Last year, 766 people participated in the program. This spring, 1,263 people participated.
Detwiler said he thinks that is an indication of renewed interest in this sector.
The Labor Department reported that the retail sector lost 1,500 jobs and the manufacturing industry shed 600 positions.
The national unemployment rate fell to 7.6 percent in March, though the economy added just 88,000 jobs. The Labor Department’s U.S. monthly unemployment report for April is due for release Friday.
Jobless rates fell in 306 metropolitan areas, rose in 44 and were unchanged in 22. Yuma, Ariz., had the nation’s highest unemployment rate: 26 percent. The lowest rate, 3.1 percent, was recorded in Midland, Tex.