Washington Unemployment Rises to 4.7 Percent
UPDATED: 5:45 p.m.
Washington area unemployment climbed to 4.7 percent in December, the highest level since 1993 but one of the lowest for a major metropolitan area. That compares with a jobless rate of 3 percent a year earlier and 4.4 percent in November, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"This is a very difficult time in the economy, and we are not immune to the job cuts, to the downturn in the economy," said Jim Dinegar, chairman of the Greater Washington Board of Trade.
Even with the climb, Washington recorded one of the lowest jobless rates for a large metropolitan area, just one-tenth of a percentage point more than the Oklahoma City area. The national unemployment rate in December, not seasonally adjusted, was 7.1 percent.
Washington was one of the few areas to add jobs in the year ended in December, with 11,800 gained. That is the fewest jobs added in a calendar year since 2001, when the local economy was hit by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the tech bust and lost more than 3,000 jobs.
The Washington area economy is more protected than many places from economic problems because of the federal government's presence -- in contrast with places such as Detroit, which has been damaged by auto industry layoffs and had an unemployment rate of 10.6 percent in December, or Charlotte, home to many financial jobs, with a jobless rate of 8.9 percent.
Some reductions came from the hard-hit housing and financial industries in December, with apartment developer AvalonBay Communities, the National Association of Home Builders, Carlyle Group, American Capital and FBR Capital Markets announcing job cuts. But employment losses weren't limited to those sectors: biotech Vanda Pharmaceuticals, manufacturer Danaher and Interstate Hotels & Resorts have also said they are reducing their headcounts. Fannie Mae is transferring jobs out of the Washington area to places hit hard by foreclosures.
Not everyone's laying people off, though. Dinegar said that some law and lobbying firms are hiring to help their clients get money from the government and that in the professional services sector, companies are still competing for qualified employees and working to keep the ones they have. And District-based Geico last week announced that it is hiring 870 associates in the first quarter and is recruiting IT professionals, actuaries and analysts at its headquarters.
"In a tough job market, customer service positions remain very stable," Geri Lanier, assistant vice president of human resources, said in a statement "While other companies are cutting back, we are hiring."
Human resources professionals aren't expecting things to turn around in the current quarter, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resources Management. Almost 70 percent of HR professionals in the Southeast, which includes the Washington area, are pessimistic about hiring in the first quarter, although that's lower than in the Northeast (82 percent) or Midwest (75 percent).
"It looks pretty bad across the board," said Jennifer Schramm, the human resources society's manager for workplace trends and forecasting. "There's not one region that has escaped from this downturn."
Dinegar's forecast also was not upbeat for the first part of the year. He expects things to start looking better in late spring or summer.
But of economic numbers for late last year and early this year, he said, "They're not going to be pretty."
February 4, 2009; 12:20 PM ET
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