More land jobs, fewer file for unemployment in May

Economists see a slowly constricting Washington state labor market as businesses cope with elevated interest rates and inflation.

By: - June 15, 2023 6:04 pm

(Getty Images)

Washington’s labor market is showing signs of gradual tightening as job opportunities and the number of workers willing to fill them move toward a balance.

Employers added jobs in May, though less than in previous months. Meanwhile, the number of people seeking work climbed but the overall amount of openings fell.

“Are there still ‘Help Wanted’ signs around? Yes. They’ve not dried up. The number of them is coming down,”  Paul Turek, chief economist for the Employment Security Department said following the release of the state’s May employment report on Wednesday. “The labor market is still in pretty good shape, just not quite what it was a year ago.”

Washington added 2,900 jobs last month, the lowest one-month tally this year, down from 5,600 in April. February was the year’s high mark with 15,400 jobs added. 

The state’s unemployment rate dipped to 4.1% from 4.3% in April. Unemployment benefits were paid to 55,247 people, 2,368 fewer than in April, the department reported. A year ago, state unemployment was 3.9%.

Collectively, education, health services, manufacturing and retail trade accounted for roughly 7,500 additional jobs last month. That included 1,800 in food manufacturing and 800 by motor vehicle and parts dealers, per the report.

Leisure and hospitality businesses shed 2,300 jobs overall, most of those in arts, entertainment and recreation. Professional and business services employment decreased by 2,100.

Overall, the state’s labor force in May numbered 4,065,500 – an increase of 8,500 people from April, according to the report. 

That means the supply of workers increased. Not every one of them got a job, Turek explained.


Labor force represents the total number of people over the age of 16, both employed and unemployed, who are working or seeking work, he said. Thus a person who is laid off but still actively looks for a job is considered part of the labor force. A drop in the labor force means people have left work and haven’t been trying to secure employment for more than four weeks.

A tighter job market comes amid a general slowing of economic activity, Steve Lerch, Washington state’s chief economist, told the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council earlier this week.

While consumers are spending, their confidence is ebbing and a lot of economists around the country still consider a recession possible, he said, noting rising prices and interest rates continue to be the major threats to the U.S. and Washington economies.

Lerch will release the next state revenue forecast June 27.

Turek credited spending by consumers, including those returning to the workforce, for keeping a serious economic downturn at bay.

“This is the most widely anticipated recession watch we’ve ever had,” he said. “It is the labor market that is what is holding up our economy and will delay a recession.”

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Jerry Cornfield
Jerry Cornfield

Jerry Cornfield joined the Standard after 20 years covering Olympia statehouse news for The Everett Herald. Earlier in his career, he worked for daily and weekly papers in Santa Barbara, California.