Tri-City jobless rate up to 7.4 percent

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldSeptember 21, 2011 

The Tri-Cities saw steady growth in private sector jobs during August, with increases in manufacturing, retail and the medical industries.

However, job figures released Tuesday show overall employment in the Tri-Cities dropped by 1,880 jobs from July to August -- a 1.5 percent dip.

The Tri-Cities' unemployment rate increased in August to 7.4 percent from July's rate of 7 percent. That remains under the state jobless rate of 9.3 percent, which was unchanged from July.

Nonfarm jobs remained relatively flat, with 101,300 jobs in the Tri-Cities in August -- 200 fewer than July.

That decline was smaller than expected, said Ajsa Suljic, regional labor economist for the state Employment Security Department.

Growth in private industries helped offset the loss of 700 jobs in the service industry, and that reflects a diverse local economy, she said.

Overall, 124,650 people were employed in the Tri-Cities in August. The number of unemployed workers jumped up by 410 to 9,920 people in August.

While jobs were down and the number of unemployed were up, the work force decreased by 1,470 people to 134,570.

Benton County's employment rate rose from 6.8 percent in July to 7.3 percent in August, while Franklin County's went up slightly from 7.5 percent to 7.6 percent.

In the Tri-Cities, health and retail each added an estimated 100 jobs during August, according to the state.

Lowe's in Pasco and Kennewick have 10 positions open, and human resources manager Maggie Morris said she expects about 10 more will open up in the next few weeks.

It's normal for the hardware company to hire regular part-time and full-time employees this time of year, she said. The Kennewick and Pasco stores employ about 130 workers each.

Demand has been steady for home improvement products, Morris said.

Meanwhile, the August growth of 500 jobs in manufacturing, particularly food processing, is typical because it is harvest season, Suljic said.

The state reports a seasonal decline of 500 jobs in education during August compared with July. Suljic said that may mean the employees just aren't on the payroll for that month or doing work.

In general, jobs have been added at the larger Tri-City school districts.

The Kennewick School District added about 14 new certificated staff, which included teachers and specialists, as well as 19 classified employees, including para-educators and maintenance and transportation workers, said communications director Lorraine Cooper.

The Pasco School District has added 35 certificated staff and 19 classified for this school year, said public affairs director Leslee Caul.

Richland schools have fewer employees. The school district is down by three administrators, about 17 certificated employees and 26 classified workers, said Tony Howard, the district's executive director of human resources.

Richland schools had no layoffs. However, the district did not fill positions when people retired or resigned, Howard said.

Trade, transportation, warehousing and utilities are down by 200 jobs from July, according to the state. Some of that decline stems from nuclear power, Suljic said.

Most of the 1,800 temporary and contract jobs added to help during Energy Northwest's power outage ended before August, said Energy Northwest spokesman John Dobken.

The Columbia Generating Station shut down April 6 for what was planned to be the longest refueling outage in its history. It has not resumed power generation.

Farm jobs in August did not represent a significant change, Suljic said. More jobs are expected in September because of tree fruit harvests.

The 17,720 agricultural workers in Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties showed a drop of 3,590 from July to August. But the counties showed a 9 percent job growth when compared with August 2010, according to the state's August Agricultural Labor Employment and Wages report.

Suljic said Benton and Franklin counties represent about 75 percent of that farm employment.Employment data for Benton and Franklin counties was not available.

The Hanford layoffs announced Monday won't be reflected in Tri-City employment data until the October numbers are issued in November, Suljic said.

She encourages those laid off to apply for employment benefits within the first week of job loss. It takes a week to be approved and another week before receiving the first benefits check.

Candice Bluechel, WorkSource Columbia Basin business services manager, said she hasn't seen any major changes in job listings. Agricultural hiring has lagged a bit, but otherwise the job market seems to be holding steady.

WorkSource Columbia Basin and Washington State University Tri-Cities have scheduled a job fair Nov. 8 at WSU Tri-Cities in Richland to help all job seekers, she said.

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