The Tri-City economy recorded its 34th consecutive month of growth in January as the civilian labor force hit a record high of almost 132,000.
The local unemployment rate of 8.4 percent, while high, was the lowest seen in the month of January since 2010, according to figures released Tuesday by the Washington Employment Security Department.
The Tri-City unemployment rate rose 0.6 percent from December but dropped 6.7 percent from a year ago.
The local unemployment rate was well above the statewide rate of 5.8 percent, which was reported last week.
Oregon reported its jobless rate dropped to a 20-year low of 4.8 percent on Tuesday. Washington state will release its February unemployment figures on March 23.
Employment typically dips in January when retailers and other seasonal employers shed jobs. That was less pronounced in 2016 in the Tri-Cities, said Ajsa Suljic, regional labor economist for the state.
The Tri-City economy lost about 700 jobs in January compared with 1,500 a year ago. Suljic said retailers still dropped positions, but hiring in schools, financial services and manufacturing helped compensate for the loss.
The net result is an economy that grew 4.5 percent over January 2015.
“This is one of the highest expansions in January,” Suljic said.
This is one of the highest expansions in January.
Asja Suljic, state labor economist
Overall, nonfarm payroll increased by 4,600 jobs over a year ago. That extends a growth streak that began in April 2013, or about 14 months after the Tri-Cities regained its economic footing following a post-recession wave of layoffs at Hanford.
“I have not seen that (growth) before,” she said.
Carl Adrian, president and CEO for the Tri-City Development Council (TRIDEC) said the growth streak would have been greater than 34 months if not for the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which steered almost $2 billion to Hanford cleanup activities. Employment spiked, then fell off as stimulus-funded work wrapped up.
The Tri-Cities have a history of above-average unemployment rates. Adrian and Suljic both attribute it to immigration. People arrive and register for unemployment benefits or work, swelling the numbers.
“It takes a while for the economy to catch up with those folks,” Adrian said.
131,621 civilian labor force
4,600 jobs created in 12 months ending in January
4.5% annual growth rate*Washington State Employment Security Department
Suljic called it a healthy sign that shows people are actively seeking employment rather than giving up and dropping out of the statistics.
In January, 120,627 residents of Benton and Franklin counties held jobs and 10,994 were unemployed. There were 107,600 jobs in Benton and Franklin counties.
The difference between labor force and employment is because people don’t always live in the county where they work.
Growth came from a variety of sectors in 2015. Manufacturing grew by 400 jobs to a total of 7,400. The transportation and utilities sector grew by 1,000 jobs to 19,200, and the leisure and hospitality sector added 800 positions, for a total of 10,300.
In the government sector, the federal government added 100 positions, counterbalancing the 100 cut by the state.
It’s really pretty balanced growth. That demonstrates a healthy economy.
Carl Adrian, Tri-City Development Council
Local government grew by 600 jobs to 15,100. Local government includes public school districts, which have scrambled to hire teachers to keep up with growing enrollment, a mandate to reduce class sizes and the move to full-day kindergarten.
TRIDEC’s Adrian said he’s pleased to see growth spread across a variety of sectors and not concentrated on the Hanford cleanup.
“It’s really pretty balanced growth. That demonstrates a healthy economy,” he said.