The reputation of the Tri-Cities as a relatively recession-resistant place doesn't sit well with many in the community, especially those looking for a job.
"It's a myth," said Kenneth P. Phillips I of Richland. He's one more than 5,000 unemployed workers in the Tri-Cities who collected continued unemployment insurance in November.
He's been trying to find work for six months since he was laid off from his job as a building superintendent at Tri-City & Olympia Railroad Co.
Phillips, a recent transplant from Las Vegas and a construction industry veteran, said he came to the Tri-Cities to do some work for a client and was offered a job that lasted barely eight months.
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"The Tri-Cities is a good community to live in. But it's been overrated," he said.
The number of unemployed workers claiming unemployment or filing for new claims is on the rise in the Tri-Cities.
In recent years, the number of job seekers has outpaced the nonfarm job growth in the Tri-Cities, said Dean Schau, regional labor economist. A lot of them hear about the Tri-City economy doing well and come from far and wide to look for jobs. In October 2008, the Tri-Cities had 127,830 workers, but a year later that number climbed to 132,100.
The number of continued unemployment claims increased from 2,402 in October to 3,186 in November in the Benton County and from 1,311 to 1,887 in the same period in Franklin County.
In 2008, the number of similar claims increased from 1,523 in October to 2,263 in November in Benton County and from 560 to 1,230 in the same period in Franklin County.
Also, the number of first-time claims filed in November was 1,935 in Benton County and 1,356 in Franklin County. In both counties, the bulk of workers who made the initial claim were from construction, farming and production occupations.
"We may have been growing, but it's not even," Schau said. Industries such as retail, construction and manufacturing have shed jobs, affecting employment in transportation, warehousing and other related occupations, he said.
Unemployment typically increases in the Tri-Cities during the winter with the loss of seasonal agricultural, warehousing and food processing jobs, he said.
The Tri-Cities' economy has drawn national attention for being able to show nonfarm job growth at a time when most communities in the nation are losing jobs, said Carl Adrian, president and CEO of the Tri-City Development Council.
The area's 98,400 nonfarm jobs in October, showed an increase of more than 3 percent over the year, he said. The majority of those gains were in the government sector jobs, particularly at Hanford, he said.
That doesn't make a job search any easier for job hunters without specific skills in demand locally, Adrian said. "The strong Tri-City economy isn't strong for everyone."
Local employers are being cautious about hiring, he said. But he soon expects to see the trickle-down effects of the infusion of the federal stimulus money in the local economy.
In Benton County, stimulus cash so far has created or retained more than 2,500 positions at Hanford. And until recently about 12 percent of the $2 billion in stimulus money allocated for the environmental cleanup of the Hanford nuclear reservation had been spent.
As the rest of the money is spent, stimulus jobs at Hanford are expected to increase.
In all, the federal money will help create or retain about 4,000 jobs through Sept. 30, 2011, say officials.
Sandra Garza-Couch of Pasco is positive about finding an office job soon. Since March, when she moved to the area from Chicago after being out of work for two years, Garza-Couch has brushed up her computer skills and is planning to get a certificate from Columbia Basin College. Family ties brought her back, said Garza-Couch who also was going through a divorce.
"I've no choice but to shoot for the stars," said Garza-Couch, who sends out about four resumes a week.
"Economy is going to turn around," said Phillips, 50. He's interviewed for three apartment complex management jobs in six months without success. "It matters who's hiring, who you know."
Ideally, he would like to work at Hanford. "I'm definitely under-qualified for most jobs there," he said. He plans to become a building inspector after attending a CBC program.
Robin Newhart, 48, is on state assistance and is trying to find "any" job. He worked as a self-employed handyman before he injured himself earlier this year.
He said he took a class at CBC to be licensed flagger but that didn't help. He's sent out about 20 rsums so far, but hasn't heard back from potential employers. "Getting a foot in the door is not easy," he said.
Nationally, unemployed workers are waiting 23 weeks on average before finding a job, Schau said, adding the current recession is far worse than the recessions of 1981-82 and 1991-92. Also, those without a high school diploma have a higher rate of unemployment than those with a college degree.
Of the 3,647 unemployed workers who got their first unemployment insurance check last month, 1,092 workers had no formal education. The group also included 237 workers with a bachelor's degree, 54 workers with a master's and four with a doctorate.
In Washington, the number of continued claims went up from 136,113 in October to 153, 881 in November. In 2008, the number of similar claims was 70,826 in October and 96,168 in November.
"We seem to be better off than we were last year (in terms of Hanford jobs)," said Dave Atwell, performance management analyst at WorkSource Columbia Basin. Hanford job orders supported by federal money have grown substantially through the year and the Tri-Cities' economy should see "some of the "trickle down bump" related to stimulus funds, said Atwell, who was unemployed for four months in Seattle before he found a job with WorkSource in October.
"I'm a beneficiary of the stimulus," he said.
-- Pratik Joshi: 582-1541; firstname.lastname@example.org; Business Beat blog at www.tricityherald.com