The Washington area jobless rate hovered at 5.3 percent in November, according to a Labor Department report released Tuesday that revealed little change in the local employment picture.
Much like the national economy, the Washington economy has been steadily adding jobs, but not at a fast enough clip for the recovery to shift into higher gear. The region added 34,300 jobs from November 2011 to November 2012, with 27,600 of those coming from the private sector.
The biggest job gains were in the education and health services sector, which has seen a boost in demand for services from legions of aging baby boomers. That industry added 11,300 jobs in the one-year period ending in November.
The professional services industry added 10,500 jobs. Though that sector had the second-largest gains, it was a lackluster showing, considering that it has typically been the cornerstone of the Washington area economy. If the region’s recovery is to accelerate, it will likely need stronger job growth in this category.
In the past year, education and health services has consistently posted greater year-over-year job growth than professional services.
However, “the wages are vastly different in those sectors,” said Ryan Price, a research associate at the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University. Since health-care jobs tend not to pay as much as professional services jobs, Price warns, this shift could have some negative impact on the broader regional economy.
The federal government shed 4,200 jobs, but the broader government sector added 6,700 jobs, a sign that state- and municipal-level hiring has improved.
“The worst for them is over, and they’re starting to hire again,” said James Bohnaker, associate economist with Moody’s Analytics.
Other industries that saw growth were leisure and hospitality, which added 1,200 jobs, and financial activities, which gained 4,300 jobs. Bohnaker noted that the finance industry’s job growth here stacks up favorably compared with other regions. He said this is likely because that sector in Washington has a large component of insurance-related jobs, rather than banking jobs.
The manufacturing industry lost 1,200 jobs, while the construction sector lost 800. The retail sector shed 500 jobs.
The Labor Department seasonally adjusts jobless rates for metropolitan areas, which allows this data to be compared on a month-to-month basis. However, the number of job gains and losses are not seasonally adjusted, so these figures can only be evaluated on a year-over-year basis.
Unemployment rates in the Washington area remain far below the national rate, which fell to 7.8 percent in November and stayed at that level in December.
Rates slipped in 322 metropolitan areas, rose in 36, and were unchanged in 14. The highest unemployment rate, 27.5 percent, was in Yuma, Ariz. That border town has registered the nation’s highest joblessness since June. The lowest unemployment rate, 2.6 percent, was recorded in Bismarck, N.D.