Tri-City unemployment climbs since last February

Tri-City HeraldMarch 26, 2013 

The number of jobs in the Mid-Columbia inched up slightly in February, according to Tuesday’s report by the state Employment Security Department.

In all, 115,260 Tri-Citians had jobs in February. That’s an increase of 730 from January, but it’s 3,020 fewer than in February 2012.

Nonfarm jobs grew by 900 between January and February to 97,900 — about 300 more than during the same time last year.

However, unemployment in the Tri-Cities increased 2.7 percent compared to the same time in 2012 — something Ajsa Suljic, regional labor economist for Benton and Franklin counties, attributes to seasonal slumps and layoffs at Hanford.

State data shows 210 more Tri-Citians were without jobs in February than last month for a total of 13,980.

“Statistically, that’s not a big change,” Suljic said. Unfortunately, they almost all were Franklin County residents.

“Franklin County’s economic structure is quite a bit different than Benton County’s,” she said. “Franklin County has a lot of workers in retail and agriculture, both highly seasonal jobs.”

Benton County’s unemployment rate was 10.1 percent in January and February, while Franklin County’s bumped up from 12.4 percent to 12.5 percent.

Both counties’ jobless rates remained well above the state average, 8.2 percent.

There already has been a slowdown by Hanford subcontractors facing federal budget cuts called “sequestration,” but there have yet to be major layoffs and furloughs announced by the main Hanford contractors.

“It’s a really big concern for all of us. We’ve been told to expect between 1,000 and 4,700 people to be laid off or furloughed. That’s a big spread,” Suljic said.

Surprisingly, the area of employment that did well in February was in professional and business services, where most Hanford jobs are listed. They gained 200 jobs last month, which Suljic attributes to all other industries but Hanford.

Other industries that added jobs during February were construction, 100 jobs; food manufacturing, 200; and local government, 200.

Education and health services and leisure and hospitality also gained about 100 jobs each in February.

Farm jobs in Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties also were up for the month, according to the monthly Agricultural Labor Employment and Wages report.

In January, 11,750 workers were employed in agriculture. February showed a gain of 910 jobs for a total of 12,660.

Data also shows there’s been an increase of 15.7 percent compared to last February. A lot of farmers retained their workers through the mild winter, giving them work to do.

And Suljic expects the number of employed agricultural workers to pick up in coming weeks as growers and food processors gear up for the asparagus season.

At WorkSource Columbia Basin in Kennewick, Michelle Mann, WorkSource Columbia Basin area manager, said, “There were 706 job orders listed in February covering everything from minimum- to high-wage jobs. There are some requiring little education, jobs you can get with a GED, and some requiring college degrees.

“You name it and we have it, everything from health care to retail to food processing to science and related fields. Even with the pink slips going out at Hanford, things are still happening, especially in science,” Mann said.

Mann said 450 to 500 people a day come into WorkSource looking for jobs. Her office serves residents in Benton and Franklin counties but also some workers are coming in from the Umatilla area.

With the Umatilla Chemical Depot closing, people are willing to make the drive up to the Tri-Cities to work.

“There’s really, really a great cross-section of employment opportunities available. This is a good time to be looking,” Mann said.

Two job fairs are scheduled this week and next at the WorkSource office at 815 N. Kellogg St., Kennewick.

The first, on Thursday, will be for adults for jobs with an Alaskan seafood processing company. There will be two sessions, at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m., for jobs on land and on the ships.

The second job fair is for younger workers, ages 16 years to 21, for a variety of entry-level positions. It’s noon to 4 p.m. Monday.

“The April 1 job fair is for many different types of work from retail to hospitality to health care. All kinds of occupations and industries will be represented,” Mann said.

Unemployment rates for area counties are: Adams County, 12.6 percent; Columbia County, 11.8 percent; Grant County,12.9 percent; Walla Walla County, 8.4 percent; and Yakima County, 12.3 percent.

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