Mid-Columbia unemployment rate rises slightly

Tri-City HeraldMarch 13, 2013 

Editor's Note: This story is being rerun because the version published on the business page Wednesday had wrong information.

Unemployment in the Mid-Columbia is up slightly, according to January data released this week by the state Employment Security Department.

In all 114,300 Tri-Citians were working in January. That's a slight drop of 1,050 compared with December. That's 3,140 fewer than in January 2012 for a decrease of 2.7 percent.

Nonfarm jobs fell slightly between December and January to 96,700, making them about 1,400 fewer than December.

The number of unemployed workers grew to 14,080 in January, an increase of 1,630 compared with December. Compared with last January, the number of unemployed grew by 660 workers or 4.9 percent.

Ajsa Suljic, regional labor economist for Benton and Franklin counties, said the increase in unemployment is a reflection of the Hanford stimulus money running out and contractors laying off and furloughing workers. Also, there were seasonal retail layoffs, and farm and construction jobs were on hold for the winter, she said.

Benton County's jobless rate was 10.3 percent in January, while Franklin County's was 12.6 percent. That was above the state's rate of 8.5 percent.

Professional and business services, where most Hanford jobs fall, experienced a year-to-year drop of 6.7 percent. Suljic expects that to drop even more next month because of the federal budget cuts known as "sequestration."

But she also sees some bright spots. Suljic expects some job openings coming in the retail trade, local government and education sectors.

"And manufacturing is rebounding. Our manufacturing is all related to agriculture, so it depends on the farming season. We had an amazing year in 2012, one of the best," she said.

"With similar patterns in weather conditions, we should have another good year. We'll just have to wait and see what Mother Nature brings. That's the biggest hurdle in farming," she said.

Farm jobs in Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties since January 2012 rose by 14.3 percent, according to the monthly state Agricultural Labor Employment and Wages report.

There were about 11,590 agricultural jobs in January, which were up 1,450 jobs from a year ago.

Michelle Mann, area manager at WorkSource Columbia Basin, said local employment is picking up. An average of 450 to 500 people are coming to the Kennewick office daily, she said.

"Jobwise, going back to March 1, there are about 400 openings for everything from health care to hospitality, manufacturing to general laborers and concrete workers to retail," she said. "Really, there's a good cross-section of everything and anything, from minimum-wage openings to high-wage jobs requiring industry certifications."

A job fair is scheduled FridayMarch15 at the WorkSource office at 815 N. Kellogg St. in Kennewick. The sessions are at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. for Clipper Seafoods, an Alaskan company offering jobs on fishing boats.

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