SEATTLE — Anyone who’s faced unemployment knows the real story isn’t told by the numbers. Against the backdrop of Washington state’s recent “meh” unemployment stat, preliminarily 8.3%, Jobbernaut’s “Greater Seattle Diversity Job Fair” was held Wednesday at Seattle Center’s Exhibition Hall bringing together a wide spectrum of job seekers and employers.
More than 40 tables lined the packed exhibition hall, with each 5-foot table decorated by the companies that came to talk to prospects. And there were no shortage of those. Ashley Bass, working the registration table, stated there was a steady influx of people, many of whom were waiting in line for the doors to open at 11:00 a.m.
One such job seeker, Mary Sykora, is a recent transplant from Portland, OR, aka “Portlandia,” where her roots were firmly planted. Leaving her colorful hometown behind, Mary with the gift of gab came to Seattle with her partner who landed a job at Microsoft. She is starting anew. “I am looking for the creatives,” she said, “Where are they?” I reassured her that Seattle is a city rich in creative-types albeit, mixed in with a lot of tech professionals and entrepreneurs.
Mary describes herself as a “Jacqueline of All Trades.” She is seeking that right opportunity where she can put to use her multi-lingual abilities in German, French and Spanish.
Washington’s job report, released last Wednesday along with the unemployment numbers, estimated 3,300 new jobs were created in the month of March, indicating modest growth, mostly in government but also in retail trade, manufacturing, and financial activities.
While it may be a stretch to say the technology sector is booming, there has been positive news there, too. Earlier this year, Facebook expanded into larger Seattle offices and last year Zynga and Salesforce opened new offices in Seattle. Google opened an office in Bothell and several other companies, such as Tableau Software and Übermind, have been in a hiring mode.
So the picture is seemingly hopeful and bright — right?
Not so fast.
Yes there are jobs, but the reality is that there are still a lot of people looking for work. And many unemployed in Washington are facing an end to their benefits. 77,512 workers ran out of unemployment benefits as of April 7. Another 12,500 lost their benefits this Friday. And 11,000 will likely lose their benefits by mid-June. And this doesn’t begin to tell the story of the underemployed, those taking jobs at much lower salaries or unable to find a job that financially matches the one they lost.
Worker Adjustment and Retaining Notification (WARN) alerts indicate that companies continue to issue notices amidst quietly announced corporate restructures resulting in more job losses.
So what does the “preliminary” 8.3% really mean?
Sheryl Hutchison, Communications Director of the Washington State Employment Security Department, clarified that this number, based on a survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, reflects those that are actively looking for work. Eventually this number gets adjusted: the number for March was initially 8.2% but was revised to 8.3% — still down from a year ago when unemployment was at 9.4%.
Hutchinson advised that it’s best to look at these numbers over a 6 month period instead of focusing on a single month — this gives a better perspective in terms of long-term trends. Of course, she continued, it would be much better to see this number go down, way down.
A sentiment echoed by the many still searching for a job.
Linda Jocobson on Twitter: @ll_jaco