Tri-City jobless rate down compared with last June

By Loretto J. Hulse, Tri-City HeraldJuly 23, 2013 

There were more Tri-City residents employed in June than last summer, especially in construction, manufacturing, health services and private schools.

In all, about 100 more people were working in nonfarm jobs than in June 2012, according to data released Tuesday by the state Employment Security Department.

"There was a lot of activity in construction during June in both residential and commercial building. Private schools and health services also were hiring, up 500 from June 2012," said Ajsa Suljic, regional labor economist for Benton and Franklin counties.

The financial sector also is doing well, adding 200 Tri-City jobs in the past year, up 5.3 percent from June 2012.

"Financial activities -- banking, credit -- have been trending since 2009. Lending is stable, healthy and has been growing and expanding nationally," Suljic said.

Nonfarm jobs grew by 700 between May and June this year to 101,100.

Overall, 125,160 Tri-Citians were employed in June. That's an increase of 4,690 since May, but 2,170 fewer than in June 2012.

That left the Tri-City unemployment rate at 8.4 percent for June -- the same level as last June and down slightly from May.

Benton County's jobless rate is 8.2 percent, while Franklin County's was 8.6 percent. The state average is 7 percent.

The number of unemployed residents has grown to 11,420, an increase of 210 compared to last month but 200 fewer compared to the same time last year.

Ongoing layoffs by Hanford contractors still are affecting the nonfarm job numbers.

Professional and business services, where most Hanford jobs appear, experienced a year-to-year job loss of 4.6 percent.

"The growth in nonfarm employment is very encouraging as our area goes through another Hanford bust cycle," Suljic said.

More layoffs tied to government projects are expected in the next two months.

Fluor Corp. in Richland recently announced plans to lay off about 40 to 50 workers in late September as it reduces the work done in the Tri-Cities.

Additional workers will get pink slips but will be given the chance to transfer to Fluor offices elsewhere or to CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. at Hanford.

And the Tri-Cities' largest employer, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, is looking to reduce staff by Oct. 1, cutting about 50 to 75 positions.

Agricultural employment in Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties was up by 14.4 percent compared with the same time last year. There were about 25,660 jobs during June, which was a growth of 3,230 jobs compared with June 2012, according to the monthly Agricultural Labor Employment and Wages report.

Mike Gempler, executive director of Washington Growers League in Yakima, explained the main reason ag job numbers for last month are ahead of those for last year is cherry harvest began earlier than it did in 2012.

"This year we were right on schedule. Last year, harvest began 10 days to two weeks late," Gempler said.

A second factor was California cherry growers -- who harvest ahead of Washington -- had a light crop. So pickers, looking for work, headed for Washington where growers also had a light crop, mainly because of damage from heavy rains.

Gempler expects some of those workers to move on following the harvest cycle in other states but a good portion could stay.

The number of farm laborers dropped several years ago and since then, growers have worked harder to recruit and retain workers, he said.

"They've had to come up with creative solutions to attract workers," Gempler said. "One was to diversify, to plant a wider variety of crops to extend the harvest season. If there's steady work, it's more attractive for them."

Some of the available jobs in the three counties include thinning apples and harvesting potatoes and onions.

There also are 830 other current job listings in the Tri-City area, said Joe Perez at WorkSource Columbia Basin. He said the number is fairly normal for this time of year.

Check them out on the website, http://Go2worksource.com.

The number of people coming in looking for work is averaging 400 to 425 a day, a number which has remained steady over the past couple of months, Perez said.

There are no job fairs scheduled but WorkSource is taking applications from 9 to 11 a.m. each Tuesday and Thursday for Tyson Foods, which is hiring meat cutters and maintenance mechanics, Consolidated Refrigeration Foods, which is looking for general laborers and laboratory technicians, and Twin City Foods, which needs general laborers.

w Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; lhulse@tricityherald.com

w Staff writer Annette Cary also contributed to this story.

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