OLYMPIA, WA-Washington’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate posted its largest September drop since 1978, falling six-tenths of a percentage point to 5.6% while the national seasonally adjusted rate held steady at 5.4%, according to the state Employment Security Department. The last time the state and national numbers were so close was June 1998. In announcing the numbers, Employment Security Commissioner Sylvia Mundy cautioned that while she is pleased, the agency remains cautious “given the continuing financial problems in the commercial air transportation industry, announced layoffs, and negative economic impacts of oil price increases.”The estimated number of unemployed people in the state fell about 9.8%, from 198,100 at the end of August to 178,700 at the end of September, according to the report. The new estimate is the lowest seasonally adjusted total since February 2001, when the state reported 176,600 people were out of work.On a year-over-year basis, the unemployment rate is down a whopping 26%. In September 2003, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 200 basis points higher at 7.6%. All told, total nonagricultural wage and salary employment is up by 54,600 over the year which translates to a 2% increase – noticeably ahead of a 2004 total population increase of 1.1 percent.The biggest job gain in September occurred in the services industries, which added about 5,000 more jobs than would have been seasonally typical, says Greg Weeks, the state employment agency’s director of labor market and economic analysis. The more heartening gain, however, according to Weeks, was in the goods producing industries, which added about 1,200 more jobs than is seasonally typical–most of it in aerospace–and turned the year-to-date number positive at 449 jobs. “We have had a lot of manufacturing issues in this state,” Weeks tells GlobeSt.com. Looking forward, Weeks says the state forecast council predicts slow but steady growth through the next couple of years and, based on his number crunching, he’s inclined to agree. “It looks like we are coming out of a period of sluggish recovery into a period of maybe a little better recovery,” says Weeks. “Washington was hit pretty hard by the recessions and this (month’s drop in unemployment) is an indication we are starting to put it in the rear view mirror.”Despite that, Weeks says it’s possible the unemployment rate could tick back up a little in the near future. “The drop is so large it makes us all a little suspicious,” says Weeks. “Every estimate has an error range and we may be at the bottom of the error range or we may not be; we don’t really know. So I wouldn’t be surprised if the rate went back up a tenth or two in the coming months, but I do believe we are picking up something.”

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