Tri-Cities sees year-over-year job gains in November

Tri-City Herald Staff WriterDecember 23, 2013 

— The Tri-Cities has seen six consecutive months of year-over-year job growth.

The continued growth reinforces the stabilizing effect that non-Hanford industries have had after Hanford layoffs in recent years, said Ajsa Suljic, regional labor economist for Benton and Franklin counties.

An estimated 121,400 Tri-Citians were employed last month, for a gain of 3 percent from last year, according to data released Monday by the state Employment Security Department.

The state said nonfarm jobs also grew 3 percent to 102,100 from the same time last year.

Industries that saw gains included construction, retail trade, financial activities, education and health services, leisure and hospitality and local and state government.

Suljic said the Tri-Cities has seen a 2 percent to 3 percent annual growth in jobs for seven years. This year’s increase will be less, she said, because overall the job additions have been slower.

So far this year, the Tri-Cities has seen about 600 more nonfarm jobs. December’s numbers will depend on how retail trade did.

“Retail trade is inching up slowly, but it is adding a little bit of jobs here and there,” Suljic said.

Transportation and retail trade have grown continuously this year, she said. And the area has gained state and local education jobs as area school districts added positions to meet the needs of a growing population. But more Hanford layoffs are on the horizon. Three Hanford contractors are expected to lay off up to 450 workers this month and in January. Already, those contractors have granted voluntary layoffs to 161 of those workers.

Benton and Franklin counties saw the typical seasonal decline in jobs between October and November, with fewer people employed in food processing, construction, leisure and hospitality and agriculture, Suljic said.

That caused the unemployment rate to grow to 8.1 percent, up from October’s 7 percent unemployment rate, but under last year’s rate of 8.5 percent.

About 10,700 Tri-Citians were out of work and actively searching for a new job last month. That’s about 180 people fewer than last year.

Benton County’s unemployment rate was 7.5 percent in November, while Franklin County’s jobless rate rocketed up from 6.6 percent in October to 9.7 percent last month.

Suljic said that’s because of Franklin County farmworkers are no longer finding seasonal farm jobs. The unemployment rate is based on who lives in the county, not where the person works.

Farm jobs also increased about 11 percent from last year, with about 16,300 farm jobs in Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties. But that was about 20 percent fewer jobs than October.

Apples were ripening rapidly because of the cold weather, causing farmers to need to get the apples picked quickly, Suljic explained. And there wasn’t much farm activity after the first few weeks of November because of the freezing cold temperatures.

Overall, the Tri-Cities is seeing more permanent agriculture jobs, Suljic said. More people are sticking with the same employers and working for them year-round, although there is still a large seasonal need for farm workers.

WorkSource Columbia Basin has seen the number of people coming into the Kennewick office rise to about 850 to 900 a week, said Joe Perez, WorkSource Columbia Basin administrator. That’s typical this time of year since seasonal jobs, like construction and farm work, have ended.

There are more than 850 jobs listed through WorkSource, and Perez said he continues to see a variety of industries, occupations and skill levels.

Other local county unemployment rates in November: Adams County, 8.6 percent; Columbia County, 9.5 percent; Grant County, 8.9 percent; Walla Walla County, 5.9 percent; and Yakima County, 8.9 percent.

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

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