Nonfarm employment jumps up during May

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldJune 25, 2013 

The Tri-Cities continues to see job gains in agriculture, construction, education and health care.

But that rosy picture is dampened by continued Hanford job losses, which have caused the Tri-Cities to see a slight dip in year-over-year nonfarm employment.

Nonfarm jobs, at 100,300 in May, represented a leap of 900 jobs from April, but were about 100 fewer than May 2012, according to data released Tuesday by the state Employment Security Department.

In May, professional and business services, which include Hanford jobs, declined by 1,200 jobs compared with May 2012.

Ajsa Suljic, regional labor economist for Benton and Franklin counties, said the Tri-Cities has made some progress in overcoming Hanford losses, since the year-over-year loss once was as high as 3,300 jobs.

"We are still adding jobs," she said.

Among the good news for the Tri-Cities is a rebounding construction industry, an expansion of manufacturing and consistent growth in education and health services, Suljic said.

The Tri-Cities saw year-over-year job gains in construction, with 500 jobs; manufacturing, 100 jobs; and education and health services, 500 jobs.

Some of the boom in construction and education and health services can be attributed to the Tri-Cities' continued population growth, Suljic said.

It's possible that construction could regain enough jobs later this year or early next year to reach the 7,000 the community had prior to the recession, Suljic said.

Health care continues to grow, although not as rapidly, Suljic said.

Leisure and hospitality also was down about 100 jobs compared with May 2012, but Suljic said that also reflects the loss of Hanford stimulus funding.

Farm jobs in Franklin and Walla Walla counties grew by 11 percent between April and May to about 16,400 workers, according to the monthly Agricultural Labor Employment and Wages report.

The area is seeing a 12.5 percent gain in farm employment compared with May of last year, the report said.

Cherry harvest is just beginning to hit full swing in the Tri-Cities area. James Michael, promotion director for the Washington State Fruit Commission in Yakima, said nearly 3 million 20-pound boxes of sweet cherries were shipped as of Monday.

Cherries, which have to be hand-picked, are among the Tri-Cities' labor-intensive crops, creating a demand for seasonal farm labor.

Michael said some farmers have had difficulty finding workers, but the need will become more acute as harvest ramps up.

WorkSource Columbia Basin has not seen a huge demand for help finding farm labor yet, said administrator Joe Perez.

Future demand for farm labor will depend a lot on the weather, he said.

WorkSource Columbia Basin continues to see about 400 job seekers daily at its Kennewick office, Perez said.

Job listings have been steady, with about 835 openings representing a range of industries, skill needs and wages, he said.

By the numbers

Overall, about 1,920 fewer people were employed in the Tri-Cities in May than the same time last year.

But compared to April, May's total employment of 119,940 workers was up by about 1,310 people, thanks to an increase in nonfarm and farm jobs.

The Tri-Cities unemployment rate of 8.7 percent in May was slightly up from April, when the rate was 8.4 percent. But it was down from May 2012's rate of 8.8 percent.

That meant a total of 11,370 people were unemployed in May, about 2.8 percent fewer than the same time last year.

The Tri-Cities area also saw the labor force grow between May and April, with about 1,770 people joining the civilian labor force.

Benton County's unemployment rate was 8.3 percent in May, while Franklin County was at 9.5 percent.

The Tri-Cities continued to have a higher unemployment rate than the state rate of 6.8 percent.

May unemployment rates for area counties were: Adams County, 7.9 percent; Columbia County, 10.4 percent, Grant County, 8.6 percent, Walla Walla County, 6.7 percent; Yakima County, 9.8 percent.

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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