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Originally published July 17, 2013 at 11:01 AM | Page modified July 18, 2013 at 4:12 PM

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Hiring in state jumps in June

Private-sector employers created 15,700 jobs statewide last month, but an increase in job seekers kept the unemployment rate at 6.8 percent.

Seattle Times business reporter

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Led by an upturn in the construction industry, Washington state’s economy added more than twice as many jobs in June as it did in May, the Employment Security Department reported Wednesday.

Private-sector employers created 15,700 jobs statewide last month, which was partly offset by a loss of 5,900 government jobs, according to the report.

June’s net increase of 9,800 jobs signaled a sharp uptick in hiring over the previous two months, when the state added a combined 6,300 jobs.

Still, Washington’s unemployment rate remained unchanged at 6.8 percent in June as more people entered the labor force.

“Four years after the recession was declared over, we’re seeing a little bit more decent signs of recovery,” state labor economist Paul Turek said in a call with reporters.

The unemployment rate for the Seattle metro area, which includes Bellevue and Everett, also held steady at 4.7 percent. State and local joblessness stayed well below the U.S. unemployment rate of 7.6 percent.

“We’re starting to see people get a little more confident, and the increase in confidence is leading people to rejoin the labor force,” said Anthony Chan, chief economist for private wealth management at JPMorgan Chase.

Washington’s labor force — the number of people working or actively looking for work — expanded by 4,800 people in June, putting upward pressure on the unemployment rate.

“That’s a total positive,” Chan said. “The last thing you want to see is the unemployment rate coming down because people are dropping out of the labor force and not being counted.”

The state’s two fastest-growing sectors were construction and professional and business services, which added 4,100 jobs each.

They were followed by leisure and hospitality, up 3,800; education and health services, up 1,600; wholesale trade, up 600; and retail trade, up 500.

Manufacturing was the only other sector besides government to shed jobs, with a small monthly decline of 200.

The loss of 5,900 government jobs wiped out a large gain in May and “matches up with tough budgetary times,” Turek said. He blamed the monthly swing on changes in layoff patterns, particularly at public schools, which can be exaggerated because of adjustments for normal seasonal variations.

“The general trend is for government employment to be falling,” he said.

Meanwhile, the upturn in construction was led by a recovering housing market and continued commercial real-estate activity.

The Federal Reserve wrote in an economic update Wednesday that the “pace of housing starts” exceeded expectations in the Twelfth District, which is based in San Francisco and includes Washington.

The Fed’s periodic “Beige Book” also said the supply of homes for sale remained low from late May to early July, with some sellers receiving multiple offers from prospective buyers.

Strength in the housing market also is spilling over to the professional and business-services sector, said Todd Games, branch manager at staffing firm Robert Half International in Bellevue.

“It’s a much tighter market,” he said. “There are fewer candidates applying for (temporary) opportunities because they’re getting full-time jobs.”

Overall, the state has added 67,000 jobs from a year ago, and all major private sectors expanded. It now has recovered 84 percent of the 205,000 jobs it lost in the Great Recession.

Last month’s job growth, while a big improvement from April and May, was not a record-setter: Washington added 24,100 jobs in January, an off-the-charts increase that federal researchers are expected to revise downward as more data come in. Also, the state gained 10,600 jobs last August.

Chan, of JPMorgan Chase, said Washington still has a ways to go before declaring full recovery.

“Even though we’re seeing job creation, it’s clearly not enough,” he said. “The end game is an unemployment rate below 6 percent.”

Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com.

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