The D.C. Metro area’s unemployment rate fell to 6.1 percent in November, according to data released last week by the U.S. Department of Labor, after a continuous rise that lasted four months.

In the District proper, the 11.8 percent unemployment rate is one of the highest in the country, compared to a 10 percent national rate.

It cannot be concluded whether or not the decrease in the D.C. Metro area’s unemployment rate will continue, partly because of month-to-month fluctuations in the rate, according to Harry Holzer, a labor economist and public policy professor at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute who served as chief economist for the U.S. Department of Labor under President Clinton. The recent decrease from 11.9 percent to 11.8 percent could be a result of low morale among those whose job searches have proven unsuccessful.

“Nationally, we are seeing lots of people drop out of the labor market, which tends to artificially reduce the unemployment rate over time,” Holzer said.

D.C. employment numbers are skewed in relation to the rest of the country. There is a poorer and higher minority population in D.C., so its unemployment rate tends to be steeper than the nation’s. The District’s positioning as the U.S. capital also influences employment differently, according to Holzer.

The federal government’s current expansion could continue to have a positive effect on employment in the District, Holzer said.

“Employment is less sensitive to the business cycle, because so much of it is in government,” he said.

At the national level, the unemployment rate dropped to 10 percent in December. While there has not been a significant level of employment growth in the United States, there has been an increase in gross domestic product, Holzer said.

According to the Executive Office of the President’s Council on Economic Advisers’ second quarterly report, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Congress’s economic stimulus package, helped to decrease the national unemployment rate.

It remains to be seen how firms will adapt in the long run to the current economic climate.

“Employers are thinking twice about taking on more workers since they’ve managed to raise productivity and output while employing fewer people,” said Holzer and Robert Lerman in an op-ed published last November in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Five states – California, Michigan, Nevada, Rhode Island and South Carolina – have higher rates of unemployment than the District’s unemployment rate. “

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