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Bleak unemployment numbers better in Island County

The unemployment news was bad Wednesday, but not as bad in Island County as elsewhere.

Washington’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased to 7.1 percent in December, up from November’s rate of 6.4 percent, according to the state Employment Security Department.

Year over year, Washington had 54,600 fewer jobs last month than in December 2007, a 1.8 percent decrease. Nationally, employment declined by 1.9 percent over the past year.

“In barely a year, we’ve gone from historically low unemployment to record numbers of people applying for unemployment benefits,” said Employment Security Commissioner Karen Lee, referring to the record-setting 90,331 new unemployment applications that were filed in December.

The situation was somewhat better in Island County, where the unemployment rate was 6.7 percent. Skagit and Snohomish counties were higher, at 8.0 and 7.1 percent respectively, while Whatcom was lower at 6.2 percent, as was San Juan County at 5.7 percent.

The state lost an estimated 22,200 non-agricultural jobs in December. The largest declines were in manufacturing, which cut 3,500 jobs, professional and business services, down 7,900, administrative and support services, down 5,600, construction, down 4,200, and transportation, trade and utilities, which lost 3,300 jobs.

Year over year, Washington had 54,600 fewer jobs last month than in December 2007, a 1.8 percent decrease. Nationally, employment declined by 1.9 percent over the past year.

To respond to the rapid increase in unemployment-insurance applications, the department has increased the capacity of its phone system and doubled the number of staff answering phones at its call centers, with another 35 currently going through the extensive training process.

“Like every state in the country, the workload has strained our systems and we’re working very hard to catch up,” said Lee.

Laid-off workers can apply for unemployment benefits online at esd.wa.gov. As an alternative, they can call 800-318-6022 but should be prepared to wait on hold for a half hour or longer.

Job seekers can get help looking for work at Employment Security’s affiliated WorkSource offices across the state, including one WorkSource Whidbey in Oak Harbor. Visit www.go2worksource.com. Assistance also is available by phone at 877-872-5627.

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