State unemployment rate rises to 4.7%

Washington state’s economy added an estimated 2,600 jobs (seasonally adjusted) and the monthly unemployment rate rose from 4.6% in January to 4.7% in February.

The February 2024 unemployment rate is the highest recorded rate since 2021. It also marked the fifth consecutive month of increasing unemployment rates in Washington.

Job growth remains positive, but the overall trend has slowed in recent months as net employment continues to increase in some industries and decrease in others, according to the Employment Security Department (ESD).

“Over the past several months, the unemployment rate has increased bit by bit,” ESD Chief Labor Economist Anneliese Vance-Sherman said.

“That 4.7% unemployment rate signals a possible shift from an unusually tight labor market that characterized the post COVID-19 pandemic period.”

ESD paid unemployment insurance benefits to 74,090 people in February, a decrease of 3,602 paid claims over the previous month. Seasonal decreases in paid claims within agriculture and construction – industries that are typically more active during warmer seasons – contributed to the overall decrease in claims over the month.

“January losses were not as deep as initially reported and were followed by job growth in February,” Vance-Sherman said. “This is consistent with a trend of slowing job growth over the past year.”

The national unemployment rate bumped up to 3.9% in February. For comparison, the national unemployment rate (revised) for February 2023 was 3.6%.

Clallam County’s unemployment rate for February 2024 was 7.8% — tied for 14th-highest among the state’s 39 counties.

From January to February 2024, the number of people who were unemployed statewide increased from 183,684 to 190,891.

The state’s labor force in February was 4,027,986 — a decrease of 5,006 people from the previous month.

Labor force is defined as the total number of people, both employed and unemployed, over the age of 16. Layoffs and labor force participation are not necessarily connected. When people are laid off but still seeking work, they remain a part of the labor force. A drop in the labor force means people have left work and haven’t been actively seeking employment for more than four weeks.

Seven major industry sectors added jobs in February. Private sector employment increased by 1,300 jobs from January to February. Government employment also increased by 1,300 jobs.

The largest sector level gains in private industry were in education and health services (up 2,200), and transportation, warehousing and utilities (up 1,600). The deepest losses came from professional and business services (down 2,700).

The largest gains in the education and health services sector were in private education services (up 2,500).

One-month losses in the professional and business services sector included scientific and technical services, management of companies and enterprise, and administrative and support services.