Benton County has nation's biggest third-quarter jobs decline

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldMay 2, 2013 

Hanford layoffs caused Benton County's jobs to take a larger nose dive than any other county in the nation during the third quarter of 2012.

Benton County also tied for the second largest drop in weekly wages in the nation when compared with the same quarter in 2011, according to data released by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For the Tri-Cities, 2011 was the peak of employment and wages, said Ajsa Suljic, regional labor economist for Benton and Franklin counties.

Then came Hanford layoffs. By October 2011, about 2,000 of Hanford's 12,000 workers lost their jobs. Hanford continued to bleed jobs in the past year.

"Everybody else is recovering from the recession while last year we just entered the recession," Suljic said.

Benton County's employment dropped by 5.2 percent, to about 79,050 jobs, for the same three months, according to the bureau. Weekly wages dropped by 6.9 percent to $913 during that time.

The county's weekly wages remained higher than the U.S. average of $906, and were the third highest in the state, after King and Snohomish counties.

Franklin County's jobs grew by 3 percent to 33,699, but average wages dropped by 1.3 percent to $640 a week.

Hanford represents more than 30 percent of wages in the area even though it has about 16 percent of the jobs, Suljic said.

While other industries gained some jobs, that wasn't enough to fill in the gap from fewer Hanford workers, she said.

"It's a big upheaval for the local community," Suljic said.

Suljic anticipates that when the data is released for fourth quarter 2012, the Tri-Cities will end up with a 1.5 percent total job loss and 3 percent wage loss when the entire year is compared with 2011.

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