Health care sector holds obstacles for job seekers

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During this long, grueling recession, which already has chewed up and spit out 166,500 Washington jobs, the health care sector has been one of the few bright spots — steadily adding jobs even as the rest of the state’s economy shrank.

Health care did it again last month, according to the monthly report released Tuesday by the state Employment Security Department.

The sector, which includes hospitals, nursing homes and doctors’ offices as well as social assistance, gained 900 jobs in November, even as the state as a whole lost a seasonally adjusted 4,800 jobs.

But even in a relatively strong industry, jobs can be tough to find, as Shawn Saline, of Seattle, has discovered.

After several years out of the work force, Saline, 43, graduated from Shoreline Community College’s registered-nursing program in June. Once her two kids went back to school this fall, she started seriously looking for a nursing job.

The result: a one-day-a-week slot as a fill-in nurse and a bunch of rejected applications.

Saline said that even while she was in nursing school, she’d heard that opportunities for new nurses were tightening, due to the expense of training and the number of experienced nurses either staying in their jobs longer or returning to the work force.

“They don’t have the budget to train new nurses,” she said. “The people who are getting hired are people who’ve worked in that organization, on that floor, during nursing school.”

At one hospital, Saline said, 150 people applied for eight nursing positions. She interviewed at another hospital where she was competing against 100 others for a single job.

Several of the 30-odd new nurses in her graduating class are working temporary jobs this winter at flu-shot clinics.

Not counted

Because she is working part time, Saline is not counted among the 321,280 Washingtonians officially considered unemployed — 105,190 more than in November 2008.

(The jobless data come from a monthly survey of households — not, as is sometimes thought, by counting the number of people getting unemployment benefits.)

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for Washington fell to 9.2 percent in November, from 9.3 percent a month earlier, the state reported. The jobless rate in the Seattle metro area also fell, to 8.6 percent from 9.2 percent in October.

Some of that decline was due to people dropping out of the labor force because they went back to school, or are sick or they’re tired of job hunting. Almost 44,000 Washingtonians have left the labor force since September.

Including part-time workers who’d rather have full-time positions, people too discouraged to hunt and other “marginally attached” workers would add about 6.7 percentage points to Washington’s official unemployment rate, according to estimates from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Heavy toll

The recession has taken a heavy toll on working Washington. Since nonfarm payrolls peaked in February 2008, they’ve shrunk by 166,500 jobs — a decline of 5.6 percent.

Although most of the state’s major employment sectors have lost jobs, the hardest-hit have been construction and manufacturing.

Construction, which boomed along with home prices, has cratered since that bubble popped. Since February 2008, 55,800 construction jobs in Washington have evaporated — more than a quarter of the peak payroll.

Durable-goods manufacturing has fallen by 31,500 jobs, or 14.5 percent. And there likely will be more cuts before the sector turns around.