The unemployment rate in the Washington region rose to 6.1 percent in September from 5.9 percent the month before, according to a Labor Department report released Wednesday, despite private-sector growth and a hiring surge among government contractors at the end of the fiscal year.
Overall, the seasonally adjusted numbers still reflect a reluctance among employers to invest in growth and expansion, experts said, largely because of uncertainty about the economy. Still, certain sectors drove growth in private-sector jobs, including professional and business services, which added 12,400 positions.
“It is growth . . . but I’m reluctant to say the economy is turning around,” said Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president of the Professional Services Council, which represents government contractors.
Chvotkin attributed the hiring spree not so much to a growth in business but to an increase in government spending at the end of the fiscal year because of the late enactment of the federal budget. Contracting “companies are slowly ramping up employment to have additional revenue-generating positions funded under these government contracts,” he said.
Despite the rising unemployment rate, some analysts said they see hope in the jobs growth.
John McClain, deputy director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, said more people are also working in nongovernment contracting positions — an indication that companies are hiring more temporary workers, which often leads to the hiring of full-time permanent workers.
“Maybe things are starting to come back,” McClain said.
Daniel Thomas, vice president of the staffing firm Kelly Services in the D.C.-Baltimore region, said, in general, employers are not yet “spending on human capital” but are “getting more with fewer workers and are holding on to their dollars tight.”
While lower-skilled jobs in fields such as manufacturing and construction are experiencing a shortage of openings and a glut of people seeking them, Thomas said, the opposite is true in some other sectors.
“If you’ve got an [information technology] background or background in scientific, health care or engineering, I’ve got a job for you,” he said.
Metropolitan Washington posted a net gain of about 8,500 jobs during the 12-month period that ended in September, about 6,700 of them in the private sector.
The Labor Department only began providing a seasonally adjusted jobless rate in recent months, so year-over-year comparisons are only possible on a not-seasonally adjusted basis. The unadjusted rate for the region was also 6.1 percent in September, up from 5.9 percent the year before.
Construction continued to fall, year-over-year, losing 5,100 jobs. Retail and information services, which includes media, also slid, losing 2,500 and 1,600 jobs, respectively.
But most other sectors gained, including education and health, up 3,100 jobs; leisure and hospitality, up 1,200; and government, up 1,800.
The region’s 6.1 percent unemployment rate was well below the nation’s jobless level of 9.1 percent in September. The not-seasonally adjusted jobless rate fell in 249 of 372 metropolitan regions across the nation. It remained steady in 21 and rose in 102.
El Centro, Calif., had the highest not-seasonally adjusted jobless rate among the 49 largest metropolitan areas: 29.6 percent. Bismarck, N.D., had the lowest: 2.5 percent.