For the first time in 14 months, the Washington area lost more jobs than it gained, according to
a Labor Department report on June unemployment released Wednesday.
The area unemployment rate rose half a percentage point in June, to 6.2 percent, from 5.7 percent in May, the report said, largely because of job losses in the federal government.
Throughout the economic downturn, the Washington area fared better than most other metropolitan areas, mainly because the federal government hired by the thousands as the private sector contracted.
But now, as regions around Dallas, New York, Chicago, Houston and Boston are gaining tens of thousands of jobs on an annualized basis, the Washington area is lagging. It lost a net 2,700 positions from June 2010 to June 2011, according to the report.
The rise in the jobless rate during June does not necessarily mean that unemployment worsened from the month before. Because the numbers are not seasonally adjusted, a side-by-side comparison from one month to the next is not possible. The change from June 2010 to June 2011, which more accurately reflects fluctuating factors such as seasonal work that occurs in certain months, shows a decrease in the jobless rate of one-tenth of a percentage point — from 6.3 percent to 6.2 percent.
Some of the employment declines from a year ago reflect the loss of temporary census employees who ended their work for the government in fall 2010. But analysts also attribute the declines to a slowdown in hiring spurred by the showdown over the federal budget. And some said they fear the drop could be a harbinger of what the area will face when the federal budget cuts are set in motion.
“The federal government was gaining 13,000, 14,000 jobs [on an annualized basis] consistently last year. Now it’s lost its steam,” said Stephen S. Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University. “What gave us early growth last year and made us the fastest-growing metro area looks like our Achilles’ heel this year. The federal government isn’t going to be carrying the water [for the region] any longer.”
Federal, state and local government in the region posted a net loss of 5,600 jobs from June 2010 to June 2011, the report says, slightly more than the figure recorded from May to May. Most of those losses were in the federal government: It lost 5,700 jobs, offset in the broader category by some gains in state jobs.
Other sectors posting net losses were construction, down 6,800 jobs; education and health, down 1,200; information technology, down 800; and leisure and hospitality, down 800.
The sectors that posted net gains were professional and business services, up 11,000 jobs; financial services, up 1,500; and retail, up 300.
Some analysts are concerned that the professional and business services sector, which includes government contracting, could be hit by the budget cuts.
“We fully expect austerity in the professional services marketplace over the next couple of years. The counterbalance is, as government activities shrink and with impending retirement [of federal workers], we may have a significant need for contractors to support agency missions,” said Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president of the Professional Services Council.
“It’s really impossible to begin to speculate where the winners and losers will be,” he said.
The Washington region’s not-seasonally adjusted June unemployment rate was well below the national rate of 9.2 percent, down from 9.6 percent the year before.
The unemployment rate fell in 224 of the 372 metro regions across the country. It rose in 127 areas and remained steady in 21.
Riverside, Calif., had the highest unemployment rate among the 49 largest metro areas — 14.2 percent. Oklahoma City had the lowest at 5.7 percent.