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Originally published August 8, 2012 at 8:02 PM | Page modified August 8, 2012 at 8:31 PM

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Truth Needle: McKenna's claim about state's jobless rate is true

Truth Needle: Gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna says Washington has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. That's true.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The claim: Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna's latest television ad is about his plans to help the state's economy. In it he said, "Our state has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country."

What we found: True.

It's no secret that the economy, in Washington and across the nation, is struggling.

Still, at least one reader was curious enough about the statement in McKenna's TV ad to ask us to check it out. Are we really doing that much worse than most everybody else?

Pretty much, although some explanation is helpful.

There are several ways to measure unemployment, but the most commonly cited is a monthly household survey conducted by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The survey estimates how many people are actively seeking work but do not have a job, a number which is then divided by the overall size of the labor force.

Washington's unemployment rate was 8.3 percent in June, according to the bureau. That's just a hair more than the national rate for that month, 8.2 percent. (The national figure increased to 8.3 percent in July, but the state-by-state July unemployment numbers won't be available for another couple of weeks).

Despite its closeness to the national number, Washington's 8.3 percent ranked as the 14th-highest in the country, according to the bureau.

That may be because some of the largest states, California, New York and Florida, have high unemployment rates, bringing up the national average.

The state with the highest unemployment rate in June was Nevada, with 11.6 percent. North Dakota had the lowest, 2.9 percent.

Washington performs even worse on a broader metric, the so-called U-6 rating. That number includes people who are unemployed by the common definition, but also those who are underemployed — employed part time and trying to find a full-time job — and those who have given up looking for work.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not publish monthly state-by-state U-6 rankings. Instead, it releases a quarterly snapshot, which shows U-6 averages for states in the previous 12 months.

The most recent figures show that an average of 17 percent of Washington's workforce was unemployed or underemployed between the end of March 2011 and March 2012. That was tied with Florida and South Carolina as seventh-worst in the country.

Only Nevada (the highest, at 22.1 percent), California, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Oregon and Michigan were higher.

Charles McCray, a McKenna spokesman, said the campaign believes the broader number is a more accurate picture of the unemployment situation.

The campaign sought to highlight the state's relatively poor performance because "it's something a lot of Washington families have been impacted by" and "it's important for them to see in our advertising that Rob gets it," McCray said.

McKenna, currently the state attorney general, is proposing to address the problem by reducing taxes on small businesses and eliminating regulations that may hinder job creation.

Inslee, a longtime congressman, also supports review of some regulation and taxation. More prominently, he is emphasizing the importance of creating jobs in clean-energy fields.

Whether ranking 14th-worst makes Washington's unemployment rate "one of the highest in the country" is something of a judgment call. But the rate is certainly higher than that of most other states, and definitely among the highest in the broader unemployment measure.

For that, we say McKenna's claim is true.

Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or brosenthal@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal.

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