Non-farm jobs grew in Tri-Cities in January

Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldMarch 13, 2014 

The Tri-Cities saw more nonfarm jobs in January than during the previous two years when Hanford layoffs dampened economic growth.

Nonfarm jobs grew to 101,000 in January. That's 2,600 more than the same month last year, according to data just released by the state Employment Security Department.

Despite year-over-year gains in almost every industry except retail and Hanford-related ones, the Tri-City unemployment rate rose to 9.2 percent.

Benton County's January jobless rate was 8.4 percent, while Franklin County's was 11.3 percent.

But those rates -- although higher than the state average of 6.9 percent -- remain lower than during the same month in the last two years.

Overall, 114,700 Tri-Citians were working in January, up 1,150 from the same month last year.

And fewer Tri-Citians, about 11,600, were out of work and actively job hunting. That's down by almost 2,200 people compared with the same time last year, according to the data.

Most of the drop in jobs between December and January was a result of some seasonal work ending, including retail, construction and manufacturing. Those jobs are expected to return as the weather warms, said Ajsa Suljic, state regional labor economist for Benton and Franklin counties.

Professional and business services, which includes Hanford jobs, lost about 300 positions between December and January.

In December, 161 workers from Hanford contractors were approved for voluntary layoffs and were let go. But fewer Hanford workers were laid off in January thanks to a better-than-expected Hanford budget. Up to 289 cuts by Hanford contractors were expected that month, but only 12 employees were laid off.

Nonfarm jobs peaked at 105,100 in September 2011 before Hanford layoffs began, Suljic said, eventually leading to 4,000 lost jobs between 2011 and 2012.

But January employment was only 600 jobs fewer than during January 2011, she said.

Still, it's not likely the Tri-Cities will add enough jobs this year to reach the pre-layoff 2011 levels, Suljic said. The area would need an annual average of 2,000 to 3,000 jobs added this year, while she expects closer to 1,000.

The Tri-Cities growing population continues to fuel the demand for jobs in the health care and social services. Those industries were up by 500 jobs compared to the same month last year, Suljic said. And financial activities grew by 300 jobs.

Along with nonfarm employment, farm jobs in Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties also were up from the previous year.

There were about 12,600 people working in agriculture -- mostly pruning and some onion field work -- during January, increasing nearly 21 percent compared to the same month last year, according to the monthly agricultural employment and wage report.

Unemployment for area counties in January was: Adams County, 10.8 percent; Columbia County, 9.7 percent; Grant County, 11.1 percent; Yakima County, 10.9 percent and Walla Walla County, 7.2 percent.

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