Unemployment dropped to 8.2 percent in Benton and Franklin counties in July, down from 8.3 percent the month before, according to data released by the state Employment Security Department on Tuesday.
It's a good sign for the economy that the unemployment rate decreased from last month, said Ajsa Suljic, regional labor economist.
However, it remains high for the area, largely as a result of Hanford layoffs.
In July 2011, unemployment was 7.1 percent and the year before it was 7 percent. That translates to 1,540 more people looking for work than a year ago.
As is usual, the unemployment rate in Franklin County, 8.6 percent, was higher than Benton County's rate of 8 percent.
The rate for the two counties combined still is a little below the state rate of 8.4 percent. That compares with a seasonally adjusted national rate of 8.3 percent, Suljic said, although seasonally adjusted rates were not available for Benton and Franklin counties to allow a direct comparison.
The local drop in unemployment from last month was not matched with an increase in employment. Although fewer people were looking for jobs, the number of people employed dropped from 128,490 in June to an estimated 127,980 in July.
The total number of nonfarm jobs dropped by 1,000 from June to July or by about 4,800 from a year ago.
However, much of the month-to-month drop can be attributed to 700 fewer local government workers, many of them school workers who still were on the payroll in early June but off for the summer in July.
Professional and business services, the category where many Hanford jobs show up, also dropped by 200 since June.
Seasonal changes in sectors such as manufacturing, which largely is food production in the local area, did not see enough increase to offset the job losses entirely. Manufacturing jobs increased by 400 since last month.
About 2,000 jobs were cut from spring through fall 2011 at Hanford last year, with most of the cuts coming in the fall.
More gradual Hanford layoffs have continued since, and another major round is expected in late September. CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. plans to lay off up to 340 Hanford workers then.
Farm employment in Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties increased to an estimated 23,520 workers in July, according to the state's Agricultural Labor Employment and Wages report. That's up from 22,260 a year ago and 18,510 last month. The total for this July included 15,450 seasonal workers and the rest permanent workers.
Work included harvesting cherries and blueberries, thinning apples by hand and training grapes.
The apple-picking season is just starting. But not considering agricultural and food processing jobs, job listings remain steady at WorkSource Columbia Basin, said Michelle Mann, area manager.
About the same amount of people, about 2,700, are being helped each month, she said. There have been no large layoffs recently to increase the number of people seeking the office's help.
The next major job fair will be Oct. 11 at Washington State University Tri-Cities to help students and laid-off Hanford workers.
Other area county unemployment rates in June were: Adams County, 7.5 percent; Columbia County, 9.4 percent; Grant County, 8.3 percent; Walla Walla County, 6.9 percent and Yakima County, 8.4 percent.
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; email@example.com