Job gains in manufacturing, retail trade and education and health services made May the 14th consecutive month the Tri-Cities gained jobs over last year.
Nonfarm jobs reached 103,700 last month, up by 900 jobs from May 2013, according to data released Tuesday by the state Employment Security Department.
Still, the area’s unemployment rate bumped up to 7.3 percent from April’s rate of 6.8 percent.
More workers came into the area, especially for cherry harvest, explained Ajsa Suljic, regional labor economist for Benton and Franklin counties.
And workers who had stopped looking for a job got encouraged by the improving economy and started job hunting again, Suljic said. The local labor force increased by more than 2,400 workers between April and May, while total employment climbed by just 1,600 jobs to almost 119,800.
“There’s not enough job gains to compensate for those encouraged job seekers,” Suljic said.
The Tri-Cities remained above the state’s average unemployment rate of 6.1 percent. Benton County’s unemployment rate was 7.1 percent, while Franklin County’s was 7.9 percent.
A local expansion in health care over the last year has added jobs, causing that sector to show 4.4 percentyear-over-year growth in May, which is “fairly significant,” Suljic said.
“We do certainly need a lot more health care services,” she said. “Our population is growing.”
Seasonal agricultural hiring is growing, with more to come. The Tri-Cities’ agricultural employment tends to peak in July and mid-August, Suljic said.
Some of the total job increase also might be in the auto industry, since it’s the time of year when more workers are hired on commission, she said.
Hanford job losses are still being felt, but the year-over-year difference in jobs has shrunk to 400 fewer jobs, compared with 4,400 fewer after Hanford layoffs in recent years, Suljic said.
In fact, administrative and waste services added 100 jobs since May of last year. Suljic said some of those are Hanford jobs, such as for the vitrification plant project.
May unemployment rates for area counties: Adams County, 6.8 percent; Columbia County, 9 percent; Grant County, 7.5 percent; Walla Walla County, 5.9 percent; and Yakima County, 8.6 percent.
-- Kristi Pihl: 509-582-1512; email@example.com