Tri-City unemployment rate sees small increase

Tri-City Herald Staff WriterAugust 20, 2013 

Yoke's Exterior Work

Workers at the new Yoke's Fresh Market grocery store in south Richand work Tuesday on finishing the exterior of the building. Tri-City's construction industry showed a 300-job year over year gain during the month of July, according to data released Tuesday by the state Employment Security Department.

BOB BRAWDY — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

— Job growth in health care and construction continues to help bolster the Tri-Cities economy.

However, the Tri-City unemployment rate still rose slightly in July, to 8.3 percent, according to data released Tuesday by the state Employment Security Department.

That puts the local unemployment rate where it was in July 2012.

“Overall, it’s better than expected,” said Ajsa Suljic, regional labor economist for Benton and Franklin counties. “We were expecting more Hanford layoffs, but that is on hold for now until September.”

In general, the Tri-City employment numbers have remained stable, Suljic said.

Benton County had an unemployment rate of 8.1 percent in July, while Franklin County’s rate was 8.8 percent, according to the data.

The area lost 1,300 jobs in professional and business services when compared to the same month last year, many of those related to Hanford.

Non-Hanford industries including construction, retail, health care and financial activities showed year-over-year gains in July.

In total, about 124,250 Tri-Citians were employed during July, a decline of 880 jobs from the same time last year, according to the data.

Construction appears to be stable, Suljic said. And health care continues to grow. For example, Kadlec Health Systems hired about 45 people so far for its new standalone emergency department at Highway 395 and West 19th Avenue in Kennewick.

Construction and retail each showed a 300-job year-over-year gain. Education and health services added 400 jobs compared to July 2012 and financial activities contributed another 100 new jobs, according to the data.

As for agriculture, total farm jobs in Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties increased 13 percent compared to the same time last year, according to the July Agricultural Employment and Wage report. There were about 27,530 farm jobs during July, which was also a gain of about 7 percent from June.

But seasonal agricultural jobs were down from June and from the same times last year, reflecting a decreased need in cherry harvest due to weather conditions, Suljic said.

Rain damaged some of the early and mid-season cherries, causing some farmers to lose cherries to splitting.

Seasonal jobs should see an increase at the end of August when the apple harvest begins, Suljic said.

The overall growth in farm jobs shows that more workers were staying at jobs throughout the year instead of finding seasonal employment, she said.

Despite gains in some nonfarm industries and on the farm, about 11,280 Tri-Citians were out of work and actively looking for a new job in July, according to the data. That’s down by just 30 people when compared to the same month last year.

WorkSource Columbia Basin saw about 800 job seekers a week during July, which administrator Joe Perez says is normal for this time of year.

There were more than 900 open jobs listed through WorkSource, including a range of entry-level and high-skill jobs, he said.

July unemployment rates for other area counties: Adams County, 7.5 percent; Columbia County, 9.7 percent; Grant County, 8 percent, Walla Walla County, 6.8 percent; Yakima County, 8 percent.

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