Washington state added 11,000 jobs in January as the state's unemployment rate dropped to 9.1 percent from 9.3 percent in December, officials said Tuesday.
The 11,000 nonagricultural jobs added on a seasonally adjusted basis represented the strongest month of job growth in more than three years _ since November 2007, the month before the national recession began.
"We're certainly seeing positive news," said Dave Wallace, chief economist for the state Employment Security Department. "My instinct is to be somewhat cautious and see what the revisions will be in the coming months."
Wallace said that the figures released Tuesday are the first ones under a new national system in which the federal government plays a more central role, which could mean more revisions to the figures ahead.
But Employment Security Commissioner Paul Trause was optimistic.
"It's unusual to have job gains in the middle of winter, so this is another positive sign that the recovery is under way," Trause said in a statement.
The state has added 20,500 jobs from January 2010 to January of this year.
The dip in the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was led by job gains in professional and business services at 5,600 jobs; 4,500 in education and health services; 1,500 in retail trade; 1,300 in leisure and hospitality; 1,200 in financial activities; 800 in transportation, warehousing and utilities; and 100 in mining and logging.
Some industries, though, saw job losses. Wallace said construction continues to bleed jobs, losing 1,500 in January. Manufacturing lost 700, information 600, government 600, other services 500, and wholesale trade 100.
About 338,000 people in Washington were unemployed and looking for work in December, and 245,225 people received unemployment benefits the same month, officials said.
As of February, more than 40,000 people have exhausted all of their unemployment claims. But Wallace said that on a weekly basis, unemployment claims have dropped 12 percent since last year and 30 percent since 2009.
People claiming new unemployment beginning March 6 until November 5 will receive an additional $25 weekly due to a new law passed in the Legislature earlier this year.