D.C.'s unemployment rate rises slightly in December

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Local,DC,Eric P. Newcomer

After months of steadily improving jobs numbers, the District saw its unemployment rate rise by two-tenths of a percent this December. But, economists say, it's more blip than omen.

"I think it says more about the data than the District," said Stephen Fuller, director for the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University.

The small rise, from 8.3 percent unemployment to 8.5, could actually reflect the fact that more people are looking for work in the District, experts said. Only active job seekers are counted in unemployment figures.

"The labor force is growing, which is generally a sign that people are actively looking for work," said James Bohnaker, an economist at Moody's Analytics.

The District's increase from November and December was the biggest change in the region.

The District's unemployment rate has fallen significantly since December 2011, when the rate was 10.1 percent. Until December spoiled the trend, every month in 2012 had brought lower unemployment numbers.

Virginia's unemployment rate fell one-tenth of a percent to 5.5 percent last month. In December 2011, Virginia's unemployment rate was 6.1 percent.

Maryland's unemployment rate did not fluctuate between November and December, holding at 6.6 percent, which was also Maryland's unemployment rate in December 2011.

Economists said the fact that unemployment numbers held steady this month might actually be good news, given the current debate over federal budget cuts raging on Capitol Hill.

The conflict over government spending and the debt ceiling could continue to impede growth in the District and the surrounding region.

"It's clearly holding back job growth for the time being and probably will do so for the next couple months at least," Fuller said. "With the huge representation of federally contracting companies that depend on government spending, they're having a tough time to deciding what to do."

For Wayne Vroman, an economist at the Urban Institute, the big news this month is in the national data. The number of people who made new unemployment claims was down to 335,000. That was a strong showing for the start of the year, Vroman said.

"The initial claims have dropped a lot, suggesting strengthening in the labor market," he said.

enewcomer@washingtonexaminer.com

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