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Updated: About 500 San Juan County residents are collecting unemployment checks

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News that San Juan County has the lowest jobless rate in the state may come as small comfort to the 500 or so islanders who are collecting unemployment checks.

San Juan County's jobless rate was 5.4 percent in June, far better than the U.S. rate of 9.5 percent — the nation's highest in 26 years — and the state rate of 9 percent, according to the state Employment Security Department.

It was also far better than in neighboring counties: Island County, 8.7 percent; Whatcom, 8.4; Skagit, 9.9; Snohomish, 10.1, King, 8.8. The worst unemployment rate was in Lewis County, where almost 13 of every 100 working-age residents is out of a job.

Still, Minnie Knych of the Northwest Workforce Development Council office in Friday Harbor believes the local unemployment rate is actually higher than that reported by the state.

"Yes, the unemployment rate did drop and it's still lower than the state and national, but we all have to keep in mind that your unemployment check goes for so long. They are offering extensions, but some people don't get unemployment anymore. Some have dropped off the rolls but are still out of work. Our unemployment rate is higher than what shows on paper."

The NWDC, which serves Island, San Juan, Skagit and Whatcom counties, received $2.66 million in stimulus funds to assist unemployed and dislocated workers. Knych didn't have solid numbers, but she said her workload has tripled.

"I'm working with a whole lot more people than I normally do. I used to be able to find them a job within a month; I don't see that now."

San Juan County's employment picture seemed to improve in June, apparently in response to the summer season.

In May, the jobless rate was 6.2 percent. That means of a labor force of 9,150, some 8,580 were employed and 560 were out of work, according to the state Employment Security Department.

In May 2008, the San Juans had a labor force of 8,800, with 8,520 employed and 280 unemployed, a jobless rate of 3.2 percent.

In the San Juans, as in the state, there seemed to be more job security in leisure and hospitality, and in education and health services. Statewide, leisure and hospitality gained 1,600 jobs, and education and health services gained 700 jobs, while all other major sectors shed jobs between April and May.

From January to May, statewide job losses totaled 116,000, a 3.9 percent drop. Over-the-year job losses in the goods-producing industries totaled 61,900, down 12.2 percent. During the same period, services-providing industries shed 54,100 jobs (-2.2 percent). Transportation, warehousing, and utilities shed fewer jobs (-2,600) than other major services-providing sectors.

Education and health services added 9,600 jobs, for a yearly gain of 2.7 percent.

Statewide, of a labor force of 3.5 million, 336,000 were out of work, up from 177,000 in May 2008.

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