The Tri-City economy is one month short of a three-year expansion streak.
The local economy posted its 35th month of consecutive growth in February with a year-over-year growth rate of almost 4 percent, according to the monthly unemployment report released Tuesday by the Washington Employment Security Department.
Ajsa Suljic, regional labor economist, said the first two months of 2016 have been unusually robust. Mild weather has sparked early hiring in the construction sector and other seasonal fields, including food service. That helped drive down the unemployment rate, she said.
The state agency reports that the Tri-City economy gained 4,000 jobs over the year. The nonfarm seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate for February fell to 8.1 percent, its lowest level for February in at least two years. Washington’s unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.8 percent. The U.S. unemployment rate was also unchanged at 4.9 percent.
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The total work force of 127,784 workers and 10,613 unemployed job-seekers added up to a potential work force of more than 131,000 people, a gain of 2.8 percent over a year ago.
Employment security reports it paid a total of $4.1 million in unemployment insurance benefits to 3,704 Tri-City residents.
Suljic said job growth was spread broadly across the economy, with the retail sector in the lead.
“I’m really impressed with progress in leisure and hospitality. It’s more than 600 (new jobs). Month to month to month it keeps adding jobs. The industry is expanding and growing,” she said.
Government, administrative and support services, education and health care were big winners, as were the hospitality and financial services sectors.
Suljic said she’s keeping an eye on construction-related employment, which remains substantially below its pre-recession high. There are about 6,400 jobs in the construction field. The peak was in 2008 with 7,600 jobs.