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Originally published June 13, 2012 at 11:05 AM | Page modified June 14, 2012 at 7:07 AM

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New jobs lure jobless to the hunt; state's unemployment rate inches higher

Washington's unemployment rate rose slightly to 8.3 percent even though 11,700 jobs were added last month.

Seattle Times business reporter

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Jessica Suarez, 44, finally attended a career fair to support someone else this week.

"I start a job on Monday," she said, referring to her new position at OutBack Power Technologies, a renewable-energy company in Arlington.

Suarez was laid off nearly two years ago when the online marketing company she worked for was acquired. She recently exhausted all her resources, including food stamps and unemployment insurance.

But in the past four months, she's had more job prospects than in the previous two years, she said. Her experience might reflect the statewide employment picture.

In May, 11,700 jobs were added, according to the state Employment Security Department (ESD). The private sector added 14,300 jobs, and the public sector lost 2,600 jobs.

While the number of people working increased, unemployment rose to 8.3 percent in May from 8.2 percent in April. That's because more unemployed people joined the job hunt, said ESD economist Anneliese Vance-Sherman.

Others at Tuesday's career mixer, which was put on by ProLango Consulting of Redmond, hope they will be as lucky as Suarez was.

Mike Barbre, 37, said he has been on unemployment insurance since earlier last year and will run out of benefits soon.

"I have to always be optimistic,' said Barbre. "You apply for as many jobs as possible, as you feel you're qualified for."

Because the state's unemployment rate has decreased over the past few months, Washington reduced the maximum length of unemployment benefits to 73 weeks from 99 weeks.

For those losing benefits now, jobs might not be growing fast enough.

Suarez said extended unemployment benefits are hardly an incentive to stay jobless.

For anyone who thinks otherwise, she said, "I want to ask them, 'In what freaking world do you live in that 500 bucks a week is able to allow you to survive?' "

Job sectors that saw growth last month, according to ESD, included professional and business services, 5,400 jobs; transportation, warehouse manufacturing, 2,600 jobs; wholesale trade, 1,900 jobs; manufacturing, 1,400 jobs; construction, 1,200 jobs; financial services, 1,000; retail trade, 400; and education and health services, 400.

The government sector lost 2,600 jobs last month, which included 1,100 federal jobs in Washington state and 700 jobs from state agencies.

Other sectors that lost jobs were leisure and hospitality, 200 jobs and information, 100 jobs.

The April unemployment rate was revised to 8.2 percent from 8.1 percent and remains the lowest since January 2009 when unemployment was 7.7 percent.

April's estimate of jobs statewide was also revised: Though initial surveys indicated 300 jobs lost during the month, the revision shows show 2,300 jobs were added.

Last month's 8.3 percent unemployment rate was a return to the level of February and March.

Year over year, the unemployment rate has decreased by one percentage point from 9.3, Vance-Sherman said.

The state's May unemployment rate was slightly higher than the national rate of 8.2 percent. Unemployment for the Seattle, Bellevue and Everett metro area was 7.1 percent.

As of May, the state has added 102,500 jobs since the low point of the recession, the department said.

In May, roughly 292,600 Washington residents were unemployed while 156,421 were receiving benefits. As of June 2, 96,500 workers had exhausted their unemployment benefits, the department said.

The unemployment rate excludes people who are not looking for work or who are employed part time and would like a full-time job.

The broadest measure of joblessness, including unemployed or underemployed workers, puts Washington's rate at 17.6 percent for the past 12 months ending March 31.

Johanna Somers: 206-464-3714 or jsomers@seattletimes.com

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